A Chicano author and poet, he wrote the award-winning Faulknerian novella, Y no se lo Trago la Tierra (1971). His other works include This Migrant Earth (1987) and The Searchers: Collected Poetry (1990).
He studied English, Spanish, education, and history at Southwest Texas State University. He later received his PhD in Romance Languages from the University of Oklahoma.
His novel, And the Earth Did Not Devour Him, was later adapted into a film.
He was born in Texas to migrant workers Florencio and Josefa Rivera. He later married Concepción Rivera, with whom he had two daughters (Ileana and Irasema) and a son (Javie).
He influenced the Chicano poet Ana Castillo.