Teaching creative writing has been a dream come true for Alex Espinoza. Espinoza, a 2000 UC Riverside graduate who majored in creative writing is now an associate professor in UCR’s Department of Creative Writing.
In July, Espinoza took on the prestigious position of Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair, which provides financial assistance to senior CHASS faculty funded by the Rivera family and other outside donors. The position was created to commemorate UC Riverside’s fourth chancellor, Tomás Rivera, the first UC Chicano chancellor and a decorated writer.
Espinoza hopes to continue the legacy of the late Chancellor Rivera.
“This university’s community gave me so much when I was an undergrad,” Espinoza said, “so to be able to give back to that community is a dream come true. It’s a really profound and wonderful opportunity to continue to pay homage to him, and I’m excited to be joining such a stellar department with amazing writers.”
Part of Espinoza’s responsibilities as Rivera chair will be running the annual Tomás Rivera Conference. This year’s conference’s theme will be “art and activism,” and Espinoza plans to reach out to writers, scholars and performers who see their art as a tool for social change.
“The 2021conference will take a comprehensive and expansive look at the evolution of Chicanx/Latinx literature,” Espinoza said. “The following year I’m looking to do something on Latinos and public health, and the year after that I want to do something on queer Chicanx/Latinx bodies and desire.”
Rivera was the author of the famous short story collection “...y no se lo tragó la tierra,” translated as “...and the Earth Did Not Devour Him.” Espinoza plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication during the 2021 conference.
“When I was an undergrad here at UCR, my TA gifted to me a manila envelope,” Espinoza said. “Inside was a copy of ...and the Earth Did Not Devour Him and a handwritten letter. She had written, ‘someday I hope you get to write something that shows people the fine person that you are,’ so I kept that letter and book all these years. Now, over 20 years later, I’m beyond humbled to be given the opportunity to assume this position.”
“Alex was one of the most evocative writers I've ever taught, and I was so happy when his first book, ‘Still Water Saints,’ came out,” said Professor of Creative Writing Susan Straight. “I'm so pleased he is the Tomás Rivera Chair, as Concha Rivera [Tomás Rivera’s wife] whom I've known since I was young, loves his work and his enthusiasm for our students and community as much as I do. He has big plans for our campus, and we're excited to have him here."
Espinoza, who is bilingual, was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and grew up in Los Angeles, publishing his first novel, “Still Water Saints,” in both English and Spanish in 2007. Espinoza has gone on to publish two more books, “The Five Acts of Diego León,” published in 2013, and “Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime,” published in June 2019.
Espinoza created the Tomás Rivera Book Prize to support the next generation of Chicanx and Latinx writers. The contest will seek manuscript submissions from aspiring authors, and the winner will be published by the LA Review Books Press, receive a monetary award and have the opportunity to host a Q&A and book signing on campus. To enter, submit your manuscript to Submittable by January 17, 2020.
Espinoza is also heavily involved with the Puente Project, a national nonprofit organization that assists first-generation college students and their transition from community college to a university.
“I was a Puente student years ago,” Espinoza said. “Puente really laid the foundation for my writing, so every summer we put on a writing conference where we get 40 community college students...and they come to UCR for a week of writing workshops.”
Espinoza hopes to continue his work with the Puente Project during his time as Endowed Chair and plans to continue collaborating on future events.