MFA alumnus publishes collection of poetry about the Rio Grande Valley

  Friday, May 21, 2021

By Amanda Taylor

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Growing up in the sunbaked Rio Grande Valley left a lasting impression for legacy institution alumnus Esteban Rodriguez, who graduated with his MFA in Creative Writing from UTPA in 2013.

Through a collection of poetry titled The Valley, released in March of 2021 by Sundress Publications, Rodriguez describes living in the Rio Grande Valley through geographical and generational standpoints.

“The book is specifically centered around a coming of age story, but it's around a male narrator growing up in the Valley and each of the poems are mainly titled after cities in the Valley,” Rodriguez said. “They deal with specific memories as inspiration for the narrator to speak about.”

Rodriguez now lives in Kyle, Texas, but spent most of his formative years in the Valley, predominantly living in Weslaco.

Rodriguez filled the collection with individual poems titled after specific cities, such as “Mercedes,” “Edcouch,” and “Brownsville,” to encapsulate memories that occurred within these cities.

Other poems within the collection are drawn from personal memories, such as detailing interactions with Rodriguez’s family on both sides of the border. His father immigrated to the Rio Grande Valley from Mexico, which is detailed in the surrealist poem “El Rio.”

“It can feel like you're living in a world apart. I think just geographically, it feels like that, but also culturally it might feel a little bit like that as well,” Rodriguez said. “There's a lot more things that living in the Valley incorporates, not necessarily a corporate or economic cultural relevance, but more sort of like a natural cultural relevance that it might have.”

Rodriguez’s poetry has been featured in Boulevard, The Rumpus, Shenandoah, and TriQuarterly publications. Being able to obtain his MFA from legacy institution UTPA helped in the formation of his latest collection, Rodriguez said.

“My MFA was concentrated in other things I was interested in, as well, but became the genesis of this project and subsequent inspiration for this kind of work,” he said.

Rodriguez is also the author of collections Dusk & Dust (2019), Crash Course (2019), In Bloom (2020), and (Dis)placement (2020).

The Valley became a family affair as his sister, Iris Perez, and mother, Maria Perez, took all the photographs for the collection since Rodriguez lived near Austin. He said while he hadn’t lived in the Valley for some time, it was meaningful to have his family help with the production of the book.

“It was great that they were able to be a part of this book this way,” he said. “I’m really happy and grateful for that.”

From describing abandoned fields of glittering hubcaps to his grandmother rubbing Vicks on his chest and lighting religious candles to help heal his illnesses, the nostalgic longing for a sense of home persists within The Valley. Rodriguez immortalizes his family and culture within the book, and each beguiling poem is more evident of that than the last.

“I had a very happy childhood,” Rodriguez said. “The older I’ve become, the more I reflect on it and I realize that while I may have left the Valley, the Valley has never left me, and I don’t think it ever will.”

To order a copy of The Valley, visit the Sundress Publications website here.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.