The author of Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida never imagined that he would achieve national prominence.
He was born on February 21, 1954, the fourth of 12 children born to a family living in Fresno, California, where they were migrant farm workers. Victor was driven to write, which bemused his brothers and sisters. He did well in school. In fact, in a 1996 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Martinez said that in high school his guidance counselor informed him that with his excellent grades and test scores, he should aim high and consider a career as a welder. He persisted and went to California State-Fresno. The poet Philip Levine encouraged him to try for the Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. He received it, and taught there for a while, but he resigned—he wanted to write. It was worth his while. He met his wife, Tina Alvarez, when she took his class at Stanford.
Martinez felt strongly about telling the truth with his writing. Sometimes that worked for publication, but often it did not. When he learned in 1996 that Parrot in the Oven was nominated for a National Book Award for young adult fiction, he was certain he didn’t have a chance. When the book was selected for this honor, he was cast in the limelight. The book also won a Pura Belpré Award from the American Library Association. The book is somewhat autobiographical, dealing with violence, gangs, and poverty. Today, it’s a part of the curriculum in many American high schools.
Victor Martinez died February 18, 2011. He died from a malignant tumor caused by exposure to pesticides when he worked in the fields as a young boy.