UT professor recognized for lifetime of work in Rio Grande literature

Justin Atkinson

At a National Book Critics Circle ceremony in New York City last Thursday, a UT professor was awarded a lifetime achievement award for his 42 years of writing and publishing.

English professor Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, whose writings mostly deal with stories of the Rio Grande Valley, was the recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime
Achievement Award. Hinojosa-Smith was awarded by the group alongside six other writers and poets from around the country.

In his acceptance speech, Hinojosa-Smith said he appreciated the recognition from esteemed professionals in his field.

“What you’re looking at here is a very lucky man,” Hinojosa-Smith said. “To receive this award means a culmination of one’s life work, recognized by men and women who know what they’re doing about their job.”

The National Book Critics Circle is comprised of nearly 600 critics and editors from literary newspapers and magazines. The association, founded in 1974, recognizes achievements in poetry, criticism, biography, autobiography, fiction and nonfiction.

Dagoberto Gilb, writer-in-residence at the University of Houston–Victoria and the author who gave the award to Hinojosa-Smith at the ceremony, said he respected the faithfulness of Hinojosa-Smith’s writing to the Chicano culture.

“[Hinojosa-Smith] tells the common stories of us, not the predictable cliches and stereotypes,” Gilb said. “He does it in a language that is ours. He tells stories not just about where we once came from, but where we have been and still are.”

English professor emeritus William Scheick said Hinojosa-Smith’s novels contain a substantial amount of material that might not be obvious at first glance.  

“[Hinojosa-Smith’s] writings present a collage of multiple narrative viewpoints, different cultural identities, various generational time periods and miscellaneous anecdotal stories — both comic and serious,” Scheick said. “The ideal reader of his work will dig for treasure buried beneath the welter of the small talk and everyday episodes constituting the author’s narrative surface.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree from UT in 1953 and beginning teaching at the University in 1981, Hinojosa-Smith said he and his family feel a strong connection to the 40 Acres.

“It was always my desire to return to my alma mater as a professor,” Hinojosa-Smith said. “We’re a UT family: my two daughters, my brother and I, our two brothers-in-law, two nephews, a grandnephew and his sister. With that background, who couldn’t be happier to be here?”