Burro Genius: A Memoir

Burro Genius: A Memoir

by Victor Villasenor

Paperback(Reprint)

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Overview

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060526139
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/20/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 127,298
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.82(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About 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.

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."

"Me?"

"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.

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Burro Genius 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Burro Genius, By Victor Villasenor Rayo, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers $24.95 Tina Nicole C. The Weed that Grew from Concrete ¿We were like the weeds, indigenous plants, you gave them nada-nothing; hell, you even poisoned them and put concrete over them, and those weeds would still break the concrete, reaching for the sunlight of God¿ (Villasenor, 21). That was a powerful quote from the father of Victor Villasenor referring to his culture. This quote mirrors what Burro Genius written be Victor Villasenor is all about. The subject of the book is a boy¿s life long struggle with racism and trying to find himself in the midst of it all. It is Victor¿s bear all memoir of the agonies he dealt with as a little boy. He had to overcome a racist society that was constantly trying to beat the spirit and the culture out of him. As he struggles to find himself, he realizes what he already knew deep down in his heart all along, that he was a wonderfully, gifted Mexican. Villasenor covered all aspects of the subject in a balanced fashion. He takes you on a journey through his life in school as well as his home and family life in great detail. The way Victor approaches the subject is very analytical. Everything that happens in his life he gives deep thought to. Whether it was a girl walking into his class on the first day of school or it was his spirit gazing upon his lifeless body, he took into consideration what he was taught on the matter. He intertwines his religion; his faith in God and Jesus, his ancestry, his spirituality, his respect for women, his family values, as well as his own stubbornness in all of his decisions. He also approaches his memoir in a precise chronological way. He has his memoir divided into three sections called books. The book one consists of only the first three chapters. These chapters take place when he is a grown man. The book two begins when he was only five years old on his way to his first day of kindergarten, from there on out, the grades increase with the chapters. Finally, book three takes place right after the passing of his brother. This book displays Victor¿s most intimate, terrible thoughts. Villasenor is somewhat biased throughout his memoir, but that is exactly what it is; his memoir. Every thought, feeling, and perception is coming straight from Victor¿s heart as well as his experiences throughout his life. The atrocities that Victor was subjected to are unspeakable, so it¿s very difficult not to be biased. If I really go to the core of his life events, the racism he experienced, I, as well as Victor, can even go as far as to question why his brother died when he possibly didn¿t have to, medically speaking. Was there in fact malpractice at hand when Joseph, ¿just¿ a Mexican kid, was constantly examined and was told time and time again that there was nothing wrong? So, I do not blame Victor for being biased while writing his memoir. The thesis was really straight forward in the chapter displaying what Victor¿s deep feelings were: When I started school, I spoke no English. Spanish only. And we weren¿t invited in to learn English in a nice, civilized way. No, we were screamed at. No joke. Yelled at, `No Spanish, English only,¿ and then ridiculed, called names, and hit on the head or slapped across the face if we were ever caught speaking Spanish. AND SPANISH WAS ALL I KNEW! (Villasenor 17) Furthermore, the professional background given on the back of the book helps strengthen the story. It gave me satisfaction to know how far the author came while I was reading about a teacher physically and verbally abusing a five year old Mexican boy, telling him he was STUPID. When it states that he has dyslexia, it gave me a sick feeling thinking that all he needed was someone to take time aside and really try to help him. Through it all, he kept his dreams, and showed everyone who tried to oppress him that he is worth somethi
Shar123SN More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book and know I will be thinking about it for a long time. I am a teacher, mother, sister, daughter, and wife. It touched me on all of these levels.
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.
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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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huckfinn37 More than 1 year ago
I liked Burro Genuis. The author told a good story about his life and I could relate to some of it. I could relate to being picked on in school and my family is very close. I am also very close to my older brother. I like the part where shep went to meet Joseph in heaven and when the aunt was fed shrimp to keep her quiet. I was very moved by Victor having bad dreams about killing the frog and lizard until he told his dad about it. I also liked the part with the dolphins and the fact that Victor made stars and colored them blue when he was happy.
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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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Victor Villasenor is an incredible, wonderful writer. All the more so when you read this biography and learn of the immense challenges he faced from the educational system, his extreme dyslexia and from bigotry. This astounding book will make you laugh, cry and incredibly angry. This book should be required reading in any school.
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