It’s been a great week here on La Bloga as we celebrate Rudolfo Anaya and Bless Me, Ultima. If you have not yet read all the posts about Anaya, beginning on April 28, go on over to our archives and scroll through each day. I promise you will discover some terrific information about the author and his book, as well as other related topics such as the writing process, inspiration, literary identity, cultural icons, and much more.
Today, we hear from the man himself. La Bloga proudly presents a short interview with Mr. Anaya that he graciously contributed to La Bloga. Again, some wonderful insights and observations.
But first, here’s a little background about Mr. Anaya. This information is taken from Latino Writers and Journalists by Jamie Martinez Wood (Facts on File, 2007.)
Rudolfo Alfonso Anaya was born in 1937 in the rural village of Las Pasturas, New Mexico, to Martín and Rafaelita Mares Anaya. His father came from a family of cattle workers and sheepherders, and his mother’s family were farmers. Anaya was the fifth of seven children. Spanish was spoken at home and Anaya did not learn English until he started school. When Anaya was a small child, his family moved to Santa Rosa, New Mexico. For 14 years, Rudolfo lived a country boy’s life. He roamed the llano and fished and swam in the Pecos River.
In 1952, the family relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Rudolfo was exposed to cultural and ethnic diversity, racism, and prejudice. When he was 16 years old, while swimming with friends in an irrigation ditch, Anaya broke two vertebrae in his neck. This near-death experience altered his life. The incident later became the seed for his third novel, Tortuga, which many consider to be Anaya’s most complete and accomplished work.
Anaya graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1963 with a degree in English. After college, Anaya worked as a public school teacher until he secured a faculty position at the University of New Mexico. In 1966, he married Patricia Lawless, who would serve as his editor. She encouraged him to pursue his literary endeavors.
Over a period of several years, he completed his first novel, Bless Me, Ultima. Several publishing houses rejected the novel before Quinto Sol Publications published it in 1972. Bless Me, Ultima won the prestigious Premio Quinto Sol award. As we all know, it is now considered a classic.
Anaya followed Bless Me, Ultima with Heart of Aztlan (1978) and Tortuga (1979), forming an essential Chicano Literature trilogy.
Today, Mr. Anaya is retired from the University of New Mexico as Professor Emeritus. He continues to write, and he stays active in the issues and events of his community.
Manuel Ramos: Congratulations again on the 40th anniversary of Bless Me, Ultima. Quite an achievement, of course. Is there one (or several) things about that book that perhaps are not common knowledge or maybe fully understood?
Rudolfo Anaya: So many reviews about the novel there's not much I can share. I do see recurring images of the scenes I wrote that I took from real life. I see very clearly the event, the day, the lake and how the sun shone the day Florence drowned. I see other scenes. All writers are blessed/cursed with these patterns in memory.
MR Personally, I am impressed by the breadth and diversity of what is called “Latino Literature.” I see books by Latinos in every genre, from mainstream to science fiction to graphic novels. Do you agree that this is a good thing? Or, on the other hand, maybe we should have a strict definition of “Latino Literature” – would that be better for readers and writers?
RA What is Latino Literature? Works by ALL Spanish or Portuguese or French speaking writers in this continent. For me the label is too broad. I continue to say Chicano for the Mexican American literature we write. I use Hispanic at times because it relates to the New Mexico community, and it is not as broad as Latino.
MR How active are you in the ongoing transformation of literature that is being pushed by Chicano writers and other writers of color?
RA I am active in Chicano literature because I continue to write and publish. Three books last year. One for sure, maybe two, in 2012. Let the young writers write how or as they wish; I write as I write. All is good.
MR I agree. All is good if we can read a new Anaya book every year or so. Outstanding.
Here are a few questions from some of the other contributors to La Bloga:
Daniel Olivas: If you had not become a writer, what would you have been?
RA I probably would have been a priest or a rabbi. Then maybe branch off into shamanism and continue thinking and writing.
Rudy Garcia: Which two Chicanos/as should have already been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature? No, really.
RA Nobel Prize? Don't sit around waiting for prizes, get going! Prizes come in their own time.
RG Where’s the best cantina you had the best borachera-platica ever? Who do you wish had been there – living or dead?
RA The best cantina with platica I ever happened to be in? Pues, todavia no se acaba la borrachera y la buena platica. Todavia no se acaba la vida! Anda, dale gas! Let's live while the living's good, and help those in need.
RG What advice would you give a teacher of Spanish-speaking elementary kids that they wouldn’t normally hear?
RA Teachers who teach our chamacos should love them and hug them. Let's make sure kids have good meals, lots of amor from their teachers, and good books to read. I've written a few books for children and the response from our community has been extremely positive. When children see themselves (their image) in books the encounter makes them blossom. Let's nurture and nourish our florecitas, los ninos y ninas.
RG What’s the one book that you want most to complete?
RA I want to complete the novel I'm writing. It's about loss and grief and love and memory. My wife died two years ago and writing has been my communication with her. Where is the spirit world? How powerful is the role of memory? How have I come to this view of life after my 74 years on earth. It's a journey, bro. Or as the old man says, "Cowabunga, dude!"
That's it for my edition of the Bless Me, Ultima celebration. Next time I'm up, in a couple of weeks, I'll have reviews of two very different (but recommended) books.