Texas State Poet Laureate 2022 Cemented His Love for Writing and Poetry at UST
Lupe Mendez ’00, a performing artist and educator and now Texas State Poet Laureate 2022, wrote one of his first poems as a 7th grader to impress a girl. Though his ditty didn’t work on the girl, he discovered writing was fun. He peaked his own interest in the mechanics, the rhythm and syncopation. The developing poet became a fan of limericks, Edgar Allen Poe, Shel Silverstein and Mexican corridos. He spotted a structure and recognized it as an “enthralling design that stayed with me.”
Mendez’s gift for artfully wielding that design led to him being named Texas Poet Laureate 2022.
“It is an unbelievable honor and privilege to serve the community in this regard,” the poet said of the recognition. “What was once a dream is a reality.”
Finding His Calling at UST
When Mendez got to University of St. Thomas, the Galveston-raised young man found his calling.
Mendez said, “My first classes in poetry and literature were at St. Thomas. There, whatever workshop classes Dr. Janet Lowery offered, I took. It was also at UST that I took a session on Chicana poetry and literature. Looking back, my love for writing and poetry was cemented there.”
Beating the Odds
Now a successful teacher development specialist for HISD, he grew up in modest surroundings. Beating the odds, this son of a formerly undocumented Mexican immigrant and a southern Tejana from San Benito in the Lower Rio Grande Valley would deliver the commencement speech at his UST graduation.
“I was a first-generation college graduate who took 5 ½ years to make it through,” the bilingual poet recalled. “The theme for my speech was you’re going to fall, but this place helps you to get back up. I used my experience as a prime example. I said, ‘We’re not just students who go to class. We’re non-traditional and work jobs and commute, and this school understands us.’ I got a standing ovation when I quoted a line from a famous mariachi song, saying, ‘It’s not about getting there first, it’s about knowing how to get there at all.”
Driven to Achieve and Collaborate
Mendez continues to “get there.” He went on to earn an MFA in creative writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. He founded Tintero Projects where the artist and activist works with Latinx writers and other writers of color. Among his many accomplishments, Mendez authored a book titled “Why I Am Like Tequila,” which won the 2019 John A. Robertson Award for Best First Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters.
Carving Out a Place for Himself in the In-Between
He describes his poetry provocatively, as fitting a counter narrative.
“It fits the in-between space between what you think you see and what you haven’t heard a lot about.”
With his new distinction as poet laureate for Texas, Mendez envisions a more visible platform from which to serve.
He said, “When I was a younger poet, I used to compartmentalize my life: Work, activism and poetry didn’t mix communities. Today, I am happy that this segmentation no longer exists. I am a better person for the intersections. This position allows me to better serve the literary community through curriculum design, curatorial practice and expanded community building.”
Presently, Mendez is working on a manuscript dealing with the tiny and significant historical account of the 1970 lop-sided Houston desegregation plan that sparked a 3-year huelga (strike). To keep up with this project follow #HoustonHuelgaSchools on Twitter.
More about Mendez and his works can be found here.