UTEP’s College of Liberal Arts honors Benjamin Alire Sáenz


Maria L. Guerrero Duran

Writer and former UTEP professor Benjamin Alire Saenz speaks to the attendees, sharing his story as a writer and the impact his readers had on him, April 20.

Maria L. Guerrero Duran, Web Editor

The College of Liberal Arts and the El Paso Community Foundation hosted an event April 20, at the Anson Mills Building downtown, to commemorate the trajectory and work of Benjamin Alire Sáenz, a borderland writer and former creative writing professor at UTEP. 

The Dean of Liberal Arts Denis O’Hearn, said a few words of appreciation to Benjamin Sáenz, for his contributions to the UTEP community and the borderland. He also stated how this homage was important not only for the College but for him personally, as he set the goal of praising Sáenz’s trajectory. 

UTEP alumna, lecturer and writer Alessandra Narváez Valera recalls meeting Sáenz as an undergraduate and his impact on her as a writer.  

“I met Benjamin Alire Sáenz the semester of Spring 2011. He was my professor of reading and writing fiction,” said Narváez Valera. “During this time, his collection of poetry was also being discussed in a different class, which as you can imagine made for a beautiful complex connection to the person, Benjamin Alire Saenz as a professor and a living poet.”  

Other speakers included writers Daniel Chacon, Tim Z. Hernandez, Alfredo Corchado, former US poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, and the former owners of Cinco Puntos Press Lee and Bobby Byrd. 

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  • Dean of Liberal Arts Denis O’Hearn reads an excerpt from Saenz’s bestseller “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”, April 20.

  • UTEP alumna, lecturer and writer Alessandra Narvaez Valera praises to “The Book of What Remains” by Ben Saenz, April 20.

  • Former owner of local publisher Cinco Puntos Press, Bobby Byrd tells the story of his publisher and Ben Saenz’s work, April 20.

  • Attendees ranged from department chairs to professors and students of the College of Liberal Arts.

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Benjamin Sáenz shared his gratitude toward the attendees, the organizers and the borderland community. He talked about his struggles as a writer and having to find his voice.  

“When it comes to writing, it’s not the intellect that matters; it’s your heart,” Sáenz said.  

He also shared how grateful he is for the impact his books have on the lives of young and old queer people.  

“Men my age and older say, ‘I wish I had this book when I was growing up,’ I say ‘ditto,’ and they also say, ‘You healed the broken boy that lived inside of me.’ That breaks my heart,” Sáenz said. “Because their lives must have been so difficult in many ways, and they are all so courageous.” 

Sáenz shared his testimony and how writing allowed him to share his humanity and how his goal was to recognize that queer and Latinx people are human beings, as well as normalize being gay. “I have never ever performed my ethnicity and my gayness; I write as a human being,” he said. 

To conclude the evening, Sáenz received the inaugural award Ruben Salazar Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Human Spirit.  

Ruben Salazar received this journalism degree from Texas Western College in 1954. He was a civil rights activist and reporter for the Los Angeles Times, to whom Chicanx journalism is attributed. He was murdered in August 1970 by a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy while covering the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War. 

Sáenz greeted the attendees, took photos, and signed books for his colleagues and admirers.  

For information about Benjamin Alire Sáenz visit his website. 

Maria L. Guerrero Duran is the web and copy editor and may be reached at [email protected]; @bymariaguerrero on Twitter and Instagram.