Victoriano Cárdenas, a University of New Mexico alumnus, will visit campus for a reading of his new poetry collection, Portraits as Animal: Poems by Victoriano Cárdenas, in the Bobo Room in Hodgin Hall, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m.

Cárdenas, who was born and raised in Taos, is a trans poet. He first graduated from UNM in 2014 with dual degrees in History and English Literature and Language. In 2020, he graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing, where he served as editor-in-chief of Blue Mesa Review and executive editor of Skull + Wind Press.

Victoriano Cardenas

Portraits as Animal is a journey through transitions both personal and planetary framed by generational struggles with addiction, a queerphobic church, and the always-transforming land. Cárdenas began writing some of the poems in the collection during his undergraduate work at UNM and continued while he worked jobs in retail, completed his MFA, and even while he edited the book’s manuscript. Still, it feels like he has been writing the collection his entire life and “living the poetry,” he said.

“Holding a copy of the collection is still a strange experience. It feels like holding, not just my dissertation manuscript and the 8 years I spent at UNM writing and learning and teaching and developing my voice, not just a documentation of my gender dysphoria and transition and struggle with alcoholism, not just a family portrait complete with all of our strengths and flaws, but so much more than the sum of those parts,” Cárdenas said. “It feels like holding my family and our long history, including all of the parts where we hurt and were hurt, and our future where, hopefully, we heal. It feels like holding every family. It feels like hope. And it means everything to me to share that story and that hope with readers and other writers.”

Greg Martin, director of Creative Writing at UNM, is thrilled to welcome back the program alum to campus.

“We have many distinguished alumni from the Creative Writing Program at UNM, like Joy Harjo, former U.S. poet laureate, and Tori is another excellent addition to that group,” Martin said, citing the accomplishment of having a book published and in hand so soon after completing an MFA.

For Cárdenas, sharing the work is an opportunity to publish a voice he struggled to find in literature as a child.

“What excites me most about sharing the book is that I was able to tell a wholly New Mexican story, complete with all of the beauty and tragedy that many mixed-race, lower/middle-class New Mexican families experience and encounter. Growing up, I was an avid reader, and for as much as I read and read and read, I didn't find a book that really captured what it was like to grow up rural, Catholic, and genízaro in northern New Mexico until I read Bless Me, Ultima by Blue Mesa Review founder Rudy Anaya," Cárdenas said. “Publishing this portrait of my life and my family's history, and contributing to the legacy of New Mexican literature is an honor, and I am profoundly grateful to my family, my instructors, and my peers who have believed and continue to believe in my writing journey, even when I've had trouble believing in myself.”

The event is part of the Russo Reading Series, named after Joseph Russo, a biologist who gave the Creative Writing Program $1.1 million endowment to host a visiting professor and create additional programming for students. The readings are free and open to the public. The Fall series will wrap up on Nov. 16 when Creative Writing, Chicano and Chicana Studies and the Mellon Foundation will cosponsor a reading by Michelle Otero, Albuquerque’s former poet laureate.