Friday, January 16, 2009

Bless Me, Ultima - The Play


Just this week I received this exciting message from our friends at El Centro Su Teatro:

For the first time ever, Rudolfo Anaya’s original script, Bless Me, Ultima, based on his beloved 1972 novel, will be presented on stage. And who will be bringing you this landmark work? Who else? Your favorite Chicanos! (Okay, okay—your second favorite?) Denver’s most colorful theater company (36-years-old and still going strong)—Su Teatro! Bless Me, Ultima captures the magic of childhood with poetic elegance. Torn between his mother’s earthy farming family and his father’s wild vaquero brothers, young Antonio finds a wondrous middle ground in his relationship with the wise old curandera, Ultima. Su Teatro’s workshop production of Bless Me, Ultima opens on February 12. Stay tuned for more details, including a great way for you and your family to get involved. Or give us a call now: (303) 296-0219.

In line with the presentation of the play, I'll repeat a message I posted a few weeks ago regarding the Amatl Project, which is tied in with Su Teatro and Rudolfo Anaya's work.

John-Michael Rivera, Creative Director of the Amatl Project, sends our readers the following message encouraging contributions to a literary project scheduled for April, 2009. This sounds unique and full of possibilities - give it some serious thought. You should contact John-Michael for details about submitting your contribution.

Dear Folks,

For those of you who do not know me, I am John-Michael Rivera, an Associate Professor of English at CU Boulder and Creative Director of The Amatl Project, a center for the cultivation of Latina/o Arts and Literacy.

The Amatl Project grew out of EL Laboratorio, which was an award winning Latino Literary arts space that held innovative Literary Salons in 2007-2008 and worked closely with The LAB at Belmar, Arte Público Press, and the University of Colorado at Boulder's Creative Writing Program. We are continuing our programs with Latina/o artists and facilitating Literary Salons, but now we are adding important dimensions: we are working with El Centro Su Teatro in Denver and will add Latina/o literacy to our programming elements. I am currently working with El Centro Su Teatro and this year's NEA sponsored Big Read.

Making sure that Latina/o literature and culture are highlighted nationwide, we plan this year to create programs and honor the work of Rudolfo Anaya.

We are writing you all to ask that you contribute to a creative project that will take place during the 11th Annual Pablo Neruda Literary and Poetry Festival in Denver, Colorado on April 16th, 17th and 18th. At this festival, we will have a digital and live-action literary salon made up of writers, scholars and artists who have engaged or been influenced by Rudolfo Anaya's work in the broadest sense. We are looking for essays, poems, short stories, graphic novels, documentaries, and other creative work that responds to Anaya's long career as a writer.

Your contribution will, in part, serve as the basis for a literacy project with high school students in the Rocky Mountain area who have historically been left behind in literacy projects or have not had a chance to engage Latina/o artists and scholars at their own schools. The Amatl Project will work closely with teachers and students, and your contributions will serve as models for their own writing. Through your creative or critical work, we will help students find their own voices and begin their life long passion for writing.

The deadline is March 15th, on The Ides of March, and selected works will be posted on La Bloga and will be highlighted at our live performances held at El Centro Su Teatro in April, the weeks leading up to and during the Neruda Festival. If you are in the area, you will also be invited to read or perform at this event. I am also currently in conversation with three publishers who are interested in publishing a book length manuscript that may emerge from this project. This is the first of many literary salons and live blogs we will be sponsoring. Please stay tuned. Thanks for your time and if you have any questions please contact me at

Con Respeto,
John-Michael Rivera
Creative Director, The Amatl Project

The Examined Life: A Gil Rodrigues Mystery
Virgil Jose

Yellowback Mysteries, 2007

Crimespree Magazine’s review of this book said that The Examined Life is a "small gem that deserves to be dug out of the thousands published every year." The reviewer concluded that “well-drawn characters and convoluted plot lines create a pleasurable reading experience.” I agree, but let me elaborate.

Jose manages to present the characters in this private eye novel (the author’s first published work of fiction) as distinct individuals. The protagonist, Gil Rodrigues, is a Vietnam vet, widower, and a private eye. The year is 1987 and most of the action takes place in and around Los Angeles. Rodrigues does mostly insurance work, jobs like making sure that an accident victim really is injured, or checking on a business bank account to look for missing funds - that kind of mundane, routine stuff. He’s in a relationship with Diana, a beautiful Chinese American who struggles with a conflict between wanting to escape the “old ways” of her family and her need for the security of tradition. She wants to “make it” and Gil is just along for the ride. Gil is Portuguese but he spends a lot of time with the Chinese community – his best friend is David Chang (Diana’s brother); the cops who eventually become involved in the caper are Latino and Asian; some of the bad guys are also Asian. So there is a good mix in this book of unusual personalities and color. I wish there had been more about the cultural traditions and customs of the characters, but the author doesn’t spend a lot of time with those kinds of details. However, I may be wishing for the kind of details that other mystery readers object to as getting "in the way" of the mystery. This is a detective novel, after all.

The plot centers on the murder of David, which turns Gil’s world upside down. David’s daughter, Sabrina, asks Gil to investigate the killing. She’s not satisfied with the official police version that David was the victim of a carjacking gone bad. She tells Gil that David had been “acting very odd” the past few days.

Gil gets right into the case even though Lieutenant Steve Hara of the LAPD tells him not to play "TV private eye" and that interfering with an investigation of a capital crime could cause him nothing but trouble. But Gil's loyalty to David and David's family drives him forward.

Gil’s investigation affects his relationship with Diana. It requires that he dig deep into David’s life and learn things he didn’t really want to know about his friend. Eventually it places Gil in the same danger that his friend faced. Along the way, Gil meets uptight police detectives; shady and mysterious “businessmen” from China who don’t seem to really work; a retired CIA operative; and other assorted characters that point Gil toward an international conspiracy involving diplomatic immunity, smuggling, and political intrigue.

As Crimespree said, this is a pleasurable reading experience. I should point out that this book is not noir or hard-boiled (what I usually read). The violence, for the most part, is off the page, there isn’t a lot of private eye angst, and the book’s conflict plays out for the reader without many unexpected twists or turns. Jose’s first book is a good start, and I expect that his future books about his private eye will be more developed in terms of character analysis, a bit more mysterious, and maybe with more of an edge.


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