Pen to Paper
Award-winning poet and author Pablo Miguel Martínez ’79 champions inclusive literature where everyone is represented.
Thursday, December 17, 2020
black and white portrait of pablo with his hand cupping his face, with the trinity logo and the text Pablo Miguel Martinez '79

When Pablo Miguel Martínez ‘79 decided to attend Trinity University almost 40 years ago, he felt adrift and out of place as he navigated a new environment both socially and academically. 

“I came from a pretty sheltered atmosphere in terms of academics locally,” Martínez said, adding that he attended Catholic school for most of his life. “One would think that in this somewhat protected environment the transition to Trinity would be a relatively easy one, but it wasn’t.” 

Martinez was a commuter student and remembers a time when the resources students take for granted today were scant or nonexistent. Despite his initial struggles, Martínez enthusiastically charted a path forward and pursued a major in music education. 

“I was terrible,” Martínez quipped. “A wonderful woman who was a voice instructor named Rosalind Phillips, in a very kind and compassionate way, basically said that I needed to find something else.”

He was crushed. But not long after this occurrence, Martínez experienced a life-alerting moment in the classroom. During an American History course in Northrup Hall, students were tasked to write papers about westward expansion. As the professor handed back graded assignments, she stopped to read the section of someone’s paper as an example of stellar work.

“I knew it was my essay that she was reading,” Martínez recalled, adding that writing had always been a part of him, and he once won a writing contest in second grade. “It was very easy for me to create voice and to create dialogue. I will never forget that moment because all of us look for that kind of approval.”

By the time senior year hit, he rented an apartment off-campus and began to come out of his shell. While Martínez did end up majoring in music education at Trinity, he later returned to school in pursuit of an MFA degree in creative writing from Texas State University. 

His work has appeared in countless journals, anthologies, and newspapers, including Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Comstock Review, Inkwell, La Voz de Esperanza, Lodestar Quarterly, Gay and Lesbian Review, BorderSenses, Harpur Palate, Best Gay Poetry 2008, North American Review, The San Antonio Current, and the San Antonio Express-News. Among his many accolades, Martínez has been recipient of the Robert L.B. Tobin Award for Artistic Excellence, the Oscar Wilde Award, and the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize. He is also co-founder of CantoMundo, a retreat-workshop for Latina/o poets with a national platform.

Asked more broadly about his professional trajectory, Martínez admits it hasn’t always been linear. Currently, he serves as director of academic assessment & compliance at UT Health San Antonio’s School of Nursing. Previously, Martínez served as a grant writer for the Witte Museum, executive director of San Anto Cultural Arts, programs director and artistic director at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, and as professor at several public and private universities. 

He credits Trinity for expanding his critical thinking skills. For Martínez, constantly questioning or challenging assumptions is second nature to him. 

“In music, there were many closeted and a few open students and instructors, and I was only out to a small group of friends” Martínez said. “If I have a role in all of this—and what Trinity encouraged me to do—is that I am queering the literature. I am queering the way that people interact with me and with each other when we are in a group.”

When putting pen to paper, Martínez’s work revolves around lives that don’t fit a standard mold. As an author, he wants to ensure that his community is reflected in books and film. In Latin America, there is a long tradition of rich literary work and production, but for families that made the trek north and crossed the border, their stories have only recently been included as literary canon in the United States. 

“A lot of what is at the source of [my] writing is painful, but I think that it has to be there...,” Martínez added. “… We have to recall that the college experience, certainly undergrad and at the graduate level, is a pretty small fraction of the U.S. population. It’s incumbent on public library systems and on nonprofits within these communities to insist that there be all kinds of literature available.”

One of Martínez’s dreams is to publish micro chapbooks and leave them on VIA Metropolitan Transit buses to see who picks them up. When performing readings in San Antonio, the author reminds people that one in every four people in the city is illiterate or functionally illiterate.  

“Using the word literature evokes something that is viewed as elitist or exclusionary, and it absolutely should not be,” he added. If you are an adult who is illiterate, you cannot vote and participate in the civic experience, and if you are a child with illiterate parents, you become translator and interpreter. This is a huge burden to place on children.”

Martínez and I bonded over being bilingual and navigating different cultures. Embracing both bilingualism and biculturalism, he added—and constantly negotiating in these spaces— is a gift.

The power of teaching is something Martínez has experienced firsthand. Recently, a student he taught 10 years ago reached out on Facebook to thank him for the lessons he learned during an Intro to Poetry and Drama class. After we spoke and our interview ended, Martínez wrote me an email about another professor at Trinity that left a mark:

“I believe it was an English professor who reminded us that the word educate is related to the verb educe, which means to draw out,” Martínez wrote. “‘So, you see,’ the teacher explained, ‘my job is to draw out what's already in you.’ It was an inspiring Aha! moment that I recall vividly after all these years. I used it when I taught English at various colleges and universities. We have it in us, the impulse to learn, to think, to do. I credit Trinity with encouraging me to be a lifelong learner. It has served me well, and for that I am profoundly grateful.”

Rocío Guenther '16 graduated from Trinity with a degree in English and a minor in political science. After graduation, Rocío worked as a reporter and editor for the San Antonio Report, made her way into public service as an international relations specialist for the City of San Antonio, and now works as the director of constituent services for the Office of Mayor Ron Nirenberg '99. 

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