Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
One of the most prominent and versatile Chicana writers in the United States, Ana Castillo (kahs-TEE-yoh) is the author of poetry, novels, critical essays, translations, and edited texts. The Chicago-born Castillo first became known as a poet. Her writing reflects her involvement in Chicano and Latino political and cultural movements, as well as her strong commitment to feminist and environmental concerns. Among the many grants and awards she has received are the Carl Sandburg Literary Award in Fiction in 1993 for So Far from God, a Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award in 1987 for The Mixquiahuala Letters, and National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowships in 1990 and 1995. She has taught and lectured at several American and European universities.
Castillo began publishing poetry while she was still a student at Northeastern Illinois University, from which she graduated with a degree in liberal arts in 1975. She first published in journals such as Revista Chicano-Riqueño, and her first collection, Otro Canto, appeared in 1977. This was followed by The Invitation in 1979, the same year that she received an M.A. in Latin and Caribbean studies from the University of Chicago.
Castillo’s early poems reveal her involvement in the El Movimiento (the Chicano/Latino civil rights movement), as well as her developing feminism and her poetic use of eroticism. The theme of social protest in Otro Canto appears in poems such as “A Christmas Carol: c. 1976,” spoken in the voice of a Chicana facing divorce and poverty amid memories of her childhood dreams. Other frequently noted poems from the volume include “Napa, California” and “1975.” The Invitation displays Castillo’s disillusionment with the persistent sexism of the male-dominated civil rights movement. Castillo’s response in The Invitation is to appropriate the erotic, rejecting taboos and clichés through a female speaker who explores and defines her sexuality in her own terms.
In 1984, a year after the birth of her son, Marcel Ramón Herrera, selections from Otro Canto and...
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Biography (Poetry for Students)
Born to Raymond and Raquel Rocha Castillo on June 15, 1953, Ana Castillo grew up speaking Spanish in a working-class Italian neighborhood in Chicago, where she first encountered the prejudice that led her to become active in the Chicano and feminist movements. She feels, however, that the urban environment was beneficial in that it exposed her to a range of cultures, beliefs, and customs. Her parents were great storytellers, but they took the practical road of sending their daughter to a secretarial high school. However, Castillo’s lack of interest and poor typing skills led her to pursue higher education at Chicago City College and then Northern Illinois University. At first she studied art but was so discouraged by teachers who failed to understand her cultural and feminine perspective that she turned to writing for personal expression and finished with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts in 1975. Supporting herself by serving as a college lecturer and a writer-in-residence for the Illinois Arts Council, Castillo then worked toward her master’s degree in Latin American and Caribbean studies at the University of Chicago and graduated in 1979. The years that followed were filled with a variety of short-term college teaching positions. In 1991, Castillo was granted a doctorate in American studies from the University of Bremen in Germany.
Castillo has said she never thought of writing as a way to make a living. Her topics have been such that she also did not expect to be noticed by the mainstream. Nevertheless, by the mid-1990s Castillo had won several prestigious awards and was able to become a full-time writer. Although Castillo started out as a poet, she has also written novels and short stories with themes that mirror her poetry: social consciousness, feminism, and life as a Chicana. Among her awards are two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships (1990 and 1995), and the Carl Sandburg Literary Award in 1993 for her novel So Far from God (1993). Other acclaimed works are The Mixquiahuala Letters (1986); Peel My Love like an Onion (1999); My Father Was a Toltec and Selected Poems 1973–1988 (1995; originally published as My Father Was a Toltec: Poems in 1988); Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma (1994), a collection of essays; and Loverboys (1996), a collection of stories. In addition, Castillo’s work appears in numerous anthologies, and she has published various articles. In April 2000, Castillo and other notable Chicagoans were depicted on a historical mural on the sky deck of the Sears Tower.
In 2001, Castillo published her fifth volume of poetry, I Ask the Impossible, which contains work written over the previous eleven years. Intended to express topics relevant to women, particularly poor or minority women, the poems are about death, social protest, love, and family relationships. Among the poems is “While I Was Gone a War Began,” as well as several poems that focus on the childhood of Castillo’s son, Marcel Ramon Herrera. The public can read about her activities at her Website: http://www.anacastillo.com.
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Alarcón, Norma. “The Sardonic Powers of the Erotic in the Work of Ana Castillo.” In Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings, edited by Asuncion Horno-Delgado et al. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. Covers Castillo’s early poems and The Mixquiahuala Letters.
Curiel, Barbara Brinson. “Heteroglossia in Ana Castillo’s The Mixquiahuala Letters.” Discurso Literario 7, no. 1 (1990). Critical treatment of The Mixquiahuala Letters.
Delgadillo, Theresa. “Forms of Chicana Feminist Resistance: Hybrid Spirituality in Ana Castillo’s So Far from God.” Modern Fiction Studies 44 (Winter, 1998): 888-889. Explores Castillo’s characterization of Chicanas as a group of passive people who become victims of oppression and a patriarchal church, and their eventual emergence from subjugation.
Lanza, Carmela D. “Hearing the Voices: Women and Home and Ana Castillo’s So Far from God.” MELUS 23 (Spring, 1998): 65-79. Lanza’s essay compares Castillo’s book to Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868), identifying So Far from God as a “postmodern inversion” of Alcott’s novel. Both novels deal with the relationships between four sisters, but Castillo’s book is “infused with political resistance” where women of color have an opportunity to grow spiritually and politically.
Pérez-Torres, Rafael. Movements in Chicano Poetry: Against Myths, Against Margins. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Discusses the construction of Chicana identity in Castillo’s poetry.
Quintana, Alvina. “Ana Castillo’s The Mixquiahuala Letters: The Novelist as Ethnographer.” In Criticism in the Borderlands: Studies in Chicano Literature, Culture, and Ideology, edited by Héctor Calderón and José David Saldívar. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991. A critical treatment of The Mixquiahuala Letters.
Walter, Roland. “The Cultural Politics of Dislocation and Relocation in the Novels of Ana Castillo.” MELUS 23 (Spring, 1998): 81-97. Walter addresses the politics of dislocation and relocation as a “key aspect of interacting social and cultural practices and ideological discourses” in Castillo’s novels.
Yarbro-Bejarano, Yvonne. “The Multiple Subject in the Writing of Ana Castillo.” American Review 20, no. 1 (Spring, 1992). A general study that considers My Father Was a Toltec, The Mixquiahuala Letters, and Sapogonia.