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Burro Genius: A Memoir

Burro Genius: A Memoir

4.3 23
by Victor Villasenor

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Standing at the podium, Victor Villaseñor looked at the group of educators amassed before him, and his mind flooded with childhood memories of humiliation and abuse at the hands of his teachers. He became enraged. With a pounding heart, he began to speak of these incidents. When he was through, to his great disbelief he received a standing ovation. Many in the


Standing at the podium, Victor Villaseñor looked at the group of educators amassed before him, and his mind flooded with childhood memories of humiliation and abuse at the hands of his teachers. He became enraged. With a pounding heart, he began to speak of these incidents. When he was through, to his great disbelief he received a standing ovation. Many in the audience could not contain their own tears.

So begins the passionate, touching memoir of Victor Villaseñor. Highly gifted and imaginative as a child, Villaseñor coped with an untreated learning disability (he was finally diagnosed, at the age of forty-four, with extreme dyslexia) and the frustration of growing up Latino in an English-only American school in the 1940s. Despite teachers who beat him because he could not speak English, Villaseñor clung to his dream of one day becoming a writer. He is now considered one of the premier writers of our time.

Editorial Reviews

Growing up on a Southern California ranch sounds like every boy's fondest dream, but for Victor Villaseñor, spending his childhood as a little Hispanic cowboy was anything but idyllic. Plagued by an undiagnosed learning disability and spotty English, he struggled through school, mocked and ostracized by teachers and classmates alike. Even home offered insufficient sanctuary, especially after the loss of his beloved brother Joseph. Fortunately, Villaseñor was gifted with a positive attitude and a novelist's appreciation of human frailty. Burro Genius adds new dimensions to his previous memoirs, including Thirteen Senses and Wild Steps of Heaven.
Publishers Weekly
Growing up in the 1940s on his family's gracious Southern California ranch, young Villasenor envisions a cowboy's life, just like he's seen in western movies and learned from his loving but occasionally abrasive Mexican-born pap . Reality, however, finds him in the unwelcome company of an American school system where he doesn't fit in and is ostracized thanks to his undiagnosed dyslexia and limited English. Throughout this spirited memoir, novelist and nonfiction writer Villasenor (who has chronicled his family history in Rain of Gold; Wild Steps of Heaven; Thirteen Senses; etc.) faces an entourage of abusive teachers and embittered classmates who chip away at his confidence, leading him to the brink of adopting a personal philosophy of violence-for-respect. He seeks support in the strength of his close-knit family, especially his brother Joseph. But when Joseph dies of a rare, unexplained disease, Villasenor tries to embody what made his brother such a hero. Despite all the humiliation, frustration and hardship Villasenor encounters throughout his youth, he maintains an astonishingly positive and compassionate attitude. His retelling of sometimes humorous, sometimes chilling childhood experience is at once painful and gratifying. He imaginatively and poetically remembers his tumultuous childhood with the simplicity of a child and the introspection of a sage. Photos not seen by PW. Agent, Margret McBride Literary Agency. (July) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.82(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Burro Genius
A Memoir

Chapter One

I'd been writing for thirteen years, received over 260 rejections, and had just gotten -- thank God -- my first book published! The year was 1973. I was thirty-three years old, in Long Beach, California, at a CATE conference, meaning California Association of Teachers of English. I was in the back room along with five other writers. All of the other authors had previous works published. We were waiting for the main speaker to show up. This writer wasn't only published, like the rest of us; no, he'd had a best seller, was a nationally recognized speaker, and was going to show up any minute and give the keynote address to the luncheon of the whole CATE convention.

Karen, our publisher's publicist, was nervous as hell, pacing the room and trying to figure out what to do. The national best-selling author should've arrived at least thirty minutes ago. He was supposed to have flown in from the East Coast the night before on the red-eye.

Myself, I was pretty nervous, too. I'd never been in a room with so many writers before. In fact, I'd never even met a published author until about six months back, and that was when I'd been in the Los Angeles office of my New York publisher and I'd finally found out that yes, yes, yes, I was really going to be published! I immediately called my mother and father, screaming to the high heavens -- I'd been so excited. Bantam from New York was going to publish my book Macho!

The room we were in was small, but felt much larger because of all the excitement. I had no idea what was expected of me, so I stood in a corner by myself, playing it safe and just watching everything. Hell, the only reason I was even here was because our publicist Karen Black -- who was actually white -- had called me up out of the blue yesterday afternoon, I guess, as an afterthought, and said, "Don't you live just south of Long Beach?"

"Yes, I do," I'd said.

"Good. I hope you're not too busy or will take offense that I'm calling you so late, but you see, we're going to have several of our authors giving workshops at a CATE conference in Long Beach this weekend, so why don't you drive up the coast and join us?"

"Cat? What's that?" I'd asked.

"No. CATE, California Association of Teachers of English. They buy a lot of books. This conference is very important for us, and could be for you, too."

"Oh, I see. Yeah, sure, I'll come," I said, taking a deep breath. "Will I be attending one of the workshops?"

"We thought you might present a workshop."


"Yes, of course. You are a published author."

My heart began pounding. "What would I give a workshop on to English teachers?"

"On your experiences in writing. On that special English teacher who inspired you to become an author," she said full of honey. " 'Bye now. We'll see you there. Don't worry. You have a creative mind. You'll come up with something."

She gave me the address, and then this morning, I drove in my white van up from Oceanside, where I still lived on the ranch on which I was raised, to Long Beach. I'd never heard of CATE in all my life, much less did I know what it meant to "present" a workshop. All I knew was that I'd flunked the third grade twice because I couldn't learn to read, had a terrible time all through grammar school and high school. Then after ten years of writing, I was finally able to sell my first book to a leading mass-market paperback publisher in New York.

And now, standing in a corner, I felt pretty green. After all, these other writers in the room had been published before and they were talking to one another like they were all best friends, swapping publishing stories, laughing happily, eating cookies and drinking coffee. I was drinking water. One sip of coffee would have shot me through the roof. Listening to the conversation around the snack table, I was beginning to understand that these other writers had not only already had several books published, but that most of their books had first come out in hardback, then had come out in mass-market paperback.

I was quickly learning that it was not very prestigious for me to have first been published in paperback. Because paperback books didn't get reviewed, and reviews were what got an author attention, respect, and sold books. Hell, I was still so wet behind the ears that I hadn't even realized what a review was until a few weeks back. So I said nothing and just kept listening closely, trying to learn all I could without showing my ignorance. Also, I could now see that these other writers were dressed more like city people. I guess that it had been a mistake for me to come in Levi's, cowboy boots, a big belt buckle, a Western shirt, and my old blue blazer.

Behind the closed doors of the next room, we could hear the low, rumbling noise of all the people at the conference eating lunch. I figured that it had to be a good-size crowd of people by the sound of the ruckus of plates and conversation. Our publisher's publicist was now chain-smoking as she paced the room. Checking her watch for the umpteenth time, Karen now sent her assistant, Sandy, to check for any messages at the lobby, then told her to also go out to the parking lot and glance around. Boy, it was all like a movie. Here I was in the back room with a bunch of real writers, and any second now a nationally recognized author was going to come rushing down the hallway and lead us through the two closed doors where a whole convention of teachers was waiting to meet us ...

Burro Genius
A Memoir
. Copyright © by Victor Villasenor. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Victor Villaseñor vive en California en el rancho donde fue criado. Es autor de numerosos obras editoriales y aclamadas obras, entre ellas Lluvia de oro, Jurado: La Gente vs. Juan Corona, y ¡Macho!.

Victor Villaseñor's bestselling, critically acclaimed works, as well as his inspiring lectures, have brought him the honor of many awards. Most recently he was selected as the founding chair of the John Steinbeck Foundation. He lives in Oceanside, California.

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Burro Genius 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MiDicen More than 1 year ago
This book bounced around the house for months before I read it. I wish I would have read it sooner. I fell in love with the little boy,. I was inspired by his courage, his strength of character and his sensitivity to everything going on around him. I've recommended it to everyone. It's funny, real, heartbreaking and encouraging.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
alfredgreggjr More than 1 year ago
This book is a must read with much insight into the history of cultural bias and how a boy to young man dealt with it. The book captures your interest as it goes through the life of a man and his family in California in the forties.
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MARIX3 More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyed this book and have recommended to many. The way the book is written keeps you from putting the book down. Mr. Villasenor acknowledged and so wonderfully put into words what so many people went through during those tough time. And through his work he gave everyone that endured that kind of treatment a voice and a feeling of relief.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing story that validates, informs, is magical, beautiful, and calming. I started to read it because I, too, am dyslexic. I wanted to know if we had stories in common. This story has great courage. I encourage everyone to read it who wants to know something of the human spirit.