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American Book Review poet talks about his craft (Video)

By Jessica Priest
April 25, 2013 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated April 25, 2013 at 11:26 p.m.

Tim Z. Hernandez does a reading to a packed crowd at the Alcorn Auditorium on Thursday. Hernandez is the last guest in the University of Houston-Victoria's American Book Review.

Painter-turned-poet Tim Z. Hernandez used some of his acclaimed cut-to-the-bone honesty Thursday to encourage University of Houston-Victoria students to explore their own story.

It is the best way for aspiring authors to find their voice, said the poet, who is the last of the university's American Book Review series.

"I'm a firm believer that things start at home," he said, likening South Texas residents' affinity for meat and wide open spaces to how people act in his hometown. "We always think the magic happens outside of ourselves."

Hernandez hails from the San Joaquin Valley, a 500-mile region in California's underbelly, where 65 percent of the economy comes from agriculture.

He read four of his works from the books "Breathing, in Dust" and the "Natural Takeover of Small Things," peppering in how they first sprang to his mind.

He described for a jam-packed Alcorn Auditorium his father's perhaps misguided attempt to slay a pig in the family's garage for his ninth birthday.

"I was like, 'That doesn't look like Wilbur,'" Hernandez said, chuckling.

A few minutes later, he grew serious while reading prose about his grandfather physically deteriorating before his eyes.

That poem resonated the most with Janice Hill, 51, who said doctors also had trouble diagnosing a family member's illness.

"That was very emotional for me," the Victoria resident said.

She sat in the second row and was not shy about raising her hand and asking questions. She earned her master's degree in English from New York University and has been attending the university's American Book Review since it kicked off some four years ago.

She said hearing Hernandez read his poems, placing emphasis on certain words, enhanced the experience for her.

"He was astoundingly good," she said. "His language is so fluid."

Hernandez was humbled holding his latest book, the product of about eight years of traveling and interviewing people. He recalled how notoriety did not come easily at first.

The trek to his first gig from the Valley to Los Angeles was a perilous one he had not thought out logistically.

"The palm trees had graffiti on them. I was like, 'Who does that? How did they even get up there?'"

After he was dropped off at a bus station, he walked some four miles on a dangerous street only to discover he had a small audience.

But even that didn't matter in the end.

"We're all natural story tellers," Hernandez said.

Hernandez's next book "Manana Means Heaven," will be on the shelves in August.

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