Andrés Montoya (1968-1999)
“The late Andrés Montoya resided in Fresno, California. He had been a field hand, ditch digger, canner, and ice plant worker, and sometimes a teacher of writing.” – from the back cover of the iceworker sings and other poems
Born on May 18th, 1968, Andrés Montoya died from leukemia on May 26th, 1999, at the age of 31. His first collection, the ice worker sings and other poems (Bilingual Press, 1999), was awarded the 1997 Chicano/Latino Literary Prize from the University of California, Irvine, judged that year by Francisco X. Alarcón. The published book was released shortly after Montoya’s death and later won a Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award in 2000. In a 2008 essay, influential poet and critic, Rigoberto González, wrote that “having read (and reviewed) so many worthy books of poetry written by Chicanos and Latinos, I make the following declaration very much informed by what has been written and published in the past: in this generation, the iceworker sings should be known as the finest book of poetry to come out of our community.”
Montoya graduated from Fowler High School in 1986 and received his BA degree in 1992 from California State University, Fresno, where he was actively involved in campus politics and served as student-body president (1991-1992). He studied with Philip Levine and Corrinne Clegg Hales and cofounded the Chicano Writers and Artists Association with fellow student Daniel Chacón. Both Montoya and Chacón went on to earn their MFA degrees from the Creative Writing Program at the University of Oregon, where Montoya studied with Garrett Hongo and T.R. Hummer. Montoya also cited Juan Felipe Herrera as one of his mentors. After receiving his MFA in 1994, Montoya taught at various colleges and universities, including University of Oregon, Fresno State, Fresno City College and Chabot College in Hayward, CA.
Montoya published widely in such journals as the Santa Clara Review, In the Grove, Bilingual Review/Revista Bilingüe, and Flies, Cockroaches, and Poets. His poetry won the 1993 AWP Intro Award, and his play, El Muerto: Three Conversations, was produced in 1994 at the University of Oregon. Montoya’s poems can also be found in the anthologies Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California's Great Central Valley (Heyday Books, 1996), How Much Earth: An Anthology of Fresno Poets (Roadhouse Press, 2001), Under the Fifth Sun: Latino Literature from California (Heyday Books, 2002), and The Chicano Latino Literary Prize: An Anthology of Prize-Winning Fiction (Arte Público, 2008).
A committed political activist, Montoya didn’t shy away from confrontation or controversy. As student-body president at Fresno State, he fought against tuition hikes and was a forceful advocate for underrepresented groups. In 1991, after he defended a sign at a Columbus Day rally that said “go home whitey,” a recall effort was held to remove him from office that ultimately failed. Articles on Montoya's student activism can be viewed here. He continued his political involvement as a graduate student at the University of Oregon where he was a frequent critic of multiculturalism, believing that the token inclusion of minorities merely served as a cover up for larger structural ills. Some of these views are reflected in his essay, “Multiculturalism, El Movimiento and What Is To Be Done,” published as a small-run pamphlet by Sufre Publications. Later, as an instructor at Chabot College, he led a student walkout in protest of California's Prop 209 and was alleged to have knocked over a police motorcycle. Following this incident, his teaching contract wasn't renewed.
Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize
After his untimely death, the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize was created by Letras Latinas, the literary initiative of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame to honor Montoya and his work. The prize is awarded to a first book by a Latino/a poet residing in the United States and includes a cash prize and publication of the winning manuscript. University of Notre Dame Press published the first ten winners. The prize is now administered by the Huizache Literary Initiative at UC Davis and winners will be published by the University of Nevada Press.
In 2008, the Fresno based journal, In the Grove, dedicated what would be its final issue to Andrés Montoya’s life and work. Edited by Daniel Chacón, the issue featured poetry and reflections from friends, family, mentors, and fellow poets. Artwork by Montoya’s father, Malaquias, graced the cover, and the issue also introduced Montoya’s previously unpublished poem, “Pákatelas.” An event to celebrate the journal’s release was held at Arte Américas in Fresno on April 10, 2008.
In 2017, Bilingual Press and Letras Latinas at the University of Notre Dame published Andrés Montoya’s posthumous poetry collection, a jury of trees. The years-long effort was spearheaded by Daniel Chacón, who edited the collection and wrote a foreword detailing his and Montoya's long literary and personal friendship. Syracuse University professor Stephanie Fetta provided a scholarly introduction. The book draws from different periods of Montoya’s life, including his early poetry, a completed manuscript entitled, “Whispered Fruit,” loose poems from his journals, and a series of leukemia poems written shortly before his death.
At the 2017 Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Washington D.C., a panel entitled “The Iceworker Still Sings” was held discussing Andrés Montoya's life and work. Panelists Francisco Aragón, Daniel Chacón, Corrinne Clegg Hales, David Campos, and Maceo Montoya each shared memories about Montoya and read from the new collection. In April 2018, a two-day symposium was held at Fresno State to celebrate Montoya’s poetry and legacy.
Andrés Montoya followed in the creative footsteps of his father, Malaquias Montoya, a renown Chicano artist, activist, and educator, as well as his uncle José Montoya, an artist, poet, and cofounder of the arts collective, the Royal Chicano Air Force. His cousin Richard Montoya is an actor, playwright, filmmaker, and cofounding member of the Chicano theater troupe, Culture Clash. Montoya’s youngest brother, Maceo Montoya, is also an artist and writer, and his book Letters to the Poet from His Brother (Copilot Press 2014) reflects on his brother’s death and influence. Andrés Montoya was survived by his father Malaquias, his mother JoAnna Kerby, his stepmother Lezlie Salkowitz-Montoya, and his four siblings, Malaquias, Marcela, Macario and Maceo.