Karla Elling, pictured in Phoenix New Times Best of Phoenix 2015

New Times 'Best Of Phoenix 2015' hails ASU English artist-citizens


Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Three artist-citizens from Arizona State University’s Department of English have been recognized for their engagement with the desert via the 37th annual Phoenix New Times “Best Of” special issue this September.

In an “As Told To” format, two of the Creative Writing Program’s* founding members, University Professor of Letters Alberto Ríos and former program manager Karla Elling, mused on their arid beginnings. In the La Vida section,Cristóbal Martínez's bi-national art project is praised for its social consciousness.

Alberto Ríos

Alberto Ríos, who is a Regents’ Professor and holds the Katharine C. Turner Chair in English, was featured (page 150) as Arizona’s first poet laureate. Ríos was named to the post by Governor Brewer in 2013.

In the print edition, Ríos is pictured in a busy hallway of his current academic haunt—the G. Homer Durham Language and Literature Building on ASU’s Tempe campus. But in his first-person narrative, he conjures memories of his rural upbringing, of a childhood engaging with the elements.

“[T]hough my addresses have been cities, I have often lived a good distance outside them,” he said. “Ruralism is something I’ve experienced all my life — periphery, edge, liminality. For me, I think, this existence has taken on the names ‘desert’ and ‘border.’”

Karla Elling

Karla Elling, an ASU alumna (BA 1965; MA 1968; PhD 1975) sees the desert not just as an inescapable home (“I've tried to leave”), but as a somewhat treacherous art supply store:

As a hand papermaker who grows a field of arid land plants then beats their fibers to a pulp, this fascination will go on until I can no longer wield a serrated harvest knife. . . . No poisons here, so there are gopher and king snakes, javelina, coyote, Harris' hawks that feed on dove and quail, a roadrunner, collared and spiny lizards, centipedes, scorpions, and the occasional paper wasp. I draw them all, write about them, and print it up — letterpress on handmade paper (page 36).

Cristobal Martinez

A third English associate, recent alum Cristóbal Martínez (PhD 2015) is a member of the artist collective, Postcommodity, which in October is unveiling “the largest bi-national land art installation ever shown on the U.S./Mexico border.” The installation, called“Repellent Fence,” will erect more than two dozen “scare-eye” balloons to bisect the border in a statement on cross-national connections. The project was dubbed “Best Work in Progress on the Arizona Border” by the New Times in this issue (page 150).

Read more tributes to desert living in the 37th annual “Best Of Phoenix” issue.


*English’s Creative Writing Program is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2015; please join us at one or all of our celebratory events.