Ana Castillo 1953-
(Full name Ana Hernandez Del Castillo) American novelist, poet, essayist, editor, playwright, short story writer, and children's writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Castillo's career through 2000.
Castillo is a highly respected contemporary Chicana writer. Her poetry sheds light on the struggles of victimized people, but at the same time highlights the simple joys and dreams of the downtrodden. Her novels and essays focus on the plight of Chicana women and challenge patriarchal societies that fail to recognize women's individuality. Castillo's strong beliefs in feminist and Chicana issues are reflected in her writings, which are noted as constituting socio-political demands for fairness and equality.
Castillo was born on June 15, 1953 in Chicago, Illinois, to Raymond Castillo and Raquel Rocha Castillo. Her parents were struggling working-class Mexican Americans. Castillo began writing poems at the age of nine, following the death of her grandmother. She attended public schools and during her childhood was constantly aware of her ethnic roots, which stood in contrast to Chicago's caucasian mainstream society. In high school, Castillo became active in the Chicano movement, utilizing her writing skills to compose protest poetry. She attended a secretarial high school, but soon realized that a career as a secretary held no promise for her. After attending Chicago City College for two years, she transferred to Northeastern Illinois University, where she received a B.A. in liberal arts in 1975. Castillo then moved to California, where she taught ethnic studies for a year at Santa Rosa Junior College. In 1977, she returned to Chicago, where she served as writer-in-residence for the Illinois Arts Council. Castillo's first chapbook of poems, Otro Canto, was published in 1977. In 1979, Castillo earned an M.A. in Latin-American and Caribbean studies from the University of Chicago. From 1980 to 1981, she served as poet-in-residence for Urban Gateways of Chicago, and in 1985, Castillo returned to California to teach at San Francisco State University and to serve as an editor for Third Woman Press. Her first novel, The Mixquiahuala Letters, was published in 1986 and received the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award. Castillo was honored by the Women's Foundation of San Francisco for “pioneering excellence in literature” in 1987. She taught Chicano humanities literature at Sonoma State University in 1988, creative writing and fiction at California State University from 1988 to 1989, and Chicana feminist literature at the University of California at Santa Barbara as a dissertation fellow/lecturer for the Chicano Studies Department. Castillo received a California Arts Fellowship for fiction in 1989 and a National Endowments for the Arts Fellowship in 1990. She received her Ph.D. in American studies from the University of Bremen in 1991, writing her dissertation on “Xicanisma,” a term she created to describe Chicana feminism. This dissertation was published as Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma (1994) and received the Gustaves Myers Award. Castillo's third novel, So Far from God (1993), won the Carl Sandburg Literary Award in fiction in 1993 and the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award in 1994. Castillo subsequently received a second National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1995. In April 2000, a historical mural featuring Castillo and other notable Chicagoans was unveiled on the 103rd floor of the skydeck of the Sears Tower building in Chicago, Illinois.
Castillo began her literary career as a poet. Her first three published collections, Otro Canto, The Invitation (1979), and Women Are Not Roses (1984), are filled with poems that focus on women's issues. She embraces a woman's desire for identity and sexuality, traits that the Mexican male-dominant society and the Catholic church fail to recognize. Castillo continued to explore these ideas in her first novel, the epistolary Mixquiahuala Letters. This work examines the relationship between two women, Teresa and Alicia, solely through correspondence. The letters are in no certain order, and Castillo invites the reader to read these letters in three different arrangements to gain different insights: Conformist, Cynic, and Quixotic. The insights into the protagonists' personalities and beliefs remain the same, but with each different reading, the outlook of the novel changes. Castillo's next novel, Sapogonia (1990), features a male protagonist, Máximo Madrigal. Máximo fits Castillo's definition of an anti-hero, a man who believes his actions are above reproach and is a hero in his own mind. His abuse of and control over women is self-justified, and at times, even beneath his notice. He becomes obsessed with Pastora Aké, who refuses to be controlled by him, a defiance that he cannot allow and subsequently leads him to murder her. In 1993, So Far from God was published and became Castillo's first widely read and reviewed work. The novel follows the life of a strong Chicana woman, Sofi, and her four daughters, Esperanza, Fe, Caridad, and La Loca. All of the women endure numerous trials and tribulations stemming from the male-dominated culture, the Catholic Church, and white American society. The four daughters each die unusual and untimely deaths, yet the novel emphasizes the importance of women taking control of their destinies. Castillo stresses the peace that may be realized by seizing control of one's life and underscores the underlying inherent magical properties of being a woman. In 1994, Castillo published her doctoral dissertation, Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma. Xicanisma is a word that Castillo coined to encompass feminist and Chicana issues. In the essays, she attempts to uncover sexual and gender-based discrimination and describes how white feminism has had little effect on the liberation of the Chicana. Loverboys (1996) is a collection of short stories that explore the dynamics of heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Several stories return to themes of discrimination, including an examination of the biases against homosexuality and overt sexual behavior by women. In Peel My Love like an Onion (1999), Castillo returned to the novel format. The protagonist of the book, Carmen, is a woman who is obsessed with becoming a flamenco dancer even though one of her legs is afflicted by polio. Her selfish and insensitive family is unsupportive of her endeavors and constantly ridicule her dreams. My Daughter, My Son, the Eagle, the Dove (2000) is a work consisting of two long poems based on Aztec and Nahuatal instructions to youths facing rites of passage. The poems relate teachings from Castillo's ancestry that are several hundred years old, yet are still applicable to the modern world. I Ask the Impossible (2001) is a new collection of poems, several of which focus on Castillo's young son as he grows and matures.
Critical reception to Castillo's work has been largely favorable. Critics have recognized Castillo's efforts to shed light on feminist and Chicana concerns in her poetry and prose. Commentators have complimented her poems for being lyrical, straightforward, and successful in capturing the essence of a proud Chicana woman in a society dominated by white males. Reviewers have consistently noted Castillo's natural poetic abilities that many claim are apparent in her fiction. Her first novel, The Mixquiahuala Letters, received wide critical praise. The technique of offering three different courses of reading has been lauded as insightful and thought to contribute to a deeper understanding of the characters. Critics were divided over Castillo's third novel, So Far from God. While a handful of reviewers found the novel's magical realism unoriginal and a detraction from the overall message, others have praised the book for its important empowerment themes and believe this work to be Castillo's most important novel to date.
i close my eyes (to see) (poetry) 1976
Otro Canto (poetry) 1977
The Invitation (poetry) 1979; revised edition, 1986
Clark Street Counts (play) 1983
Women Are Not Roses (poetry) 1984
The Mixquiahuala Letters (novel) 1986
My Father Was a Toltec: Poems (poetry) 1988; revised edition, 1995
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color [editor with Cherríe Moraga] (poetry, essays, and short stories) 1988; also published as Este puente, mi espalda: Voces de mujeres tercermundistas en los Estados Unidos, 1988
Sapogonia: An Anti-Romance in 3/8 Meter (novel) 1990
The Sexuality of Latinas [editor with Norma Alarcón and Cherríe Moraga] (essays, short stories, and poetry) 1993
So Far from God (novel) 1993
Chicago Poetry [editor with Heiner Bus] (poetry) 1994
Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma (essays) 1994
Goddess of the Americas: Writings on the Virgin of Guadalupe [editor] (essays, poetry, and short stories) 1996; also published as La Diosa de las Américas, 2000
Loverboys (short stories) 1996
Peel My Love like an Onion (novel) 1999
My Daughter, My Son, the Eagle, the Dove (juvenilia) 2000
I Ask the Impossible: Poems (poetry) 2001
SOURCE: “The Sardonic Powers of the Erotic in the Work of Ana Castillo,” in Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings, University of Massachusetts Press, 1989, pp. 94–107.
[In the following essay, Alarcón analyzes Castillo's writing in the context of male/female relationships and the politics of women's sexuality.]
Ana Castillo, a native of Chicago, first made an impact on the Chicano writers' community with the publication of her chapbook, Otro Canto (1977). Written mostly in English (as is almost all of Castillo's work), it ensured her reputation as a “social protest” poet at a time when it was difficult to be anything else. As a...
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SOURCE: “Many Colored Poets,” in Women's Review of Books, Vol. 6, No. 12, September, 1989, pp. 29–31.
[In the following review, Randall explores the similarities of style and theme among the poems of Paula Gunn Allen, Chrystos, and Castillo.]
… only you, unblessed conqueror, father of my son, remained ignorant, boastful of a power you would never own. You stride the continents of your fool's pride not knowing why it is I, Malinche, whose figure looms large above the tales of your con- quests …
(from “Malinalli, La Malinche, to Cortes, Conquistador,” by Paula Gunn Allen)
… In the scars of my...
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SOURCE: “Ana Castillo's The Mixquiahuala Letters: The Novelist as Ethnographer,” in Criticism in the Borderlands: Studies in Chicano Literature, Culture, and Ideology, Duke University Press, 1991, pp. 73–83.
[In the following essay, Quintana finds The Mixquiahuala Letters to be a study of the cultural liberation of Chicanas.]
Personal narrative mediates this contradiction between the engagement called for in fieldwork and the self-effacement called for in formal ethnographic description, or at least mediates some of its anguish, by inserting into the ethnographic text the authority of the personal experience out of which the...
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SOURCE: “The Multiple Subject in the Writing of Ana Castillo,” in Americas Review, Vol. 20, No. 1, Spring, 1992, pp. 65–72.
[In the following essay, Yarbro-Bejarano comments on the three perspectives often used in Castillo's works. Castillo writes alternately in first-, second-, and third-person perspective, but because of her experiences in a multi-ethnic world, her first-person writing style has a myriad of voices.]
In her book Borderlands/La frontera: The New Mestiza, Gloria Anzaldúa speaks of the political reality of the U.S./Mexican border and also of the psychological, sexual and spiritual borderlands that form “wherever two or more cultures edge...
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SOURCE: “Flicker, Flame, Butterfly Ablaze,” in Belles Lettres, Vol. 8, No. 3, Spring, 1993, pp. 19–20.
[In the following positive review of The Mixquiahuala Letters, Carr examines the tragedy of Teresa, the protagonist, who is doomed to unhappiness because of social and personal beliefs.]
Ana Castillo's first novel, The Mixquiahuala Letters, originally published by Bilingual Press in 1986, has reached the mainstream. A Chicana native to Chicago, Castillo has been well-known in the Latino academic community as a poet and writer. The recent and sudden “discovery” of Mexican American literature by critics and publishing houses is bringing greater...
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SOURCE: “Lush Language: Desert Heat,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 16, 1993, pp. 1, 9.
[Barbara Kingsolver is a best-selling novelist and essayist. In the following review, she praises Castillo's So Far from God, finding it to be a well-written and humorous novel that encompasses both parody and social commentary.]
So Far from God could be the offspring of a union between One Hundred Years of Solitude and “General Hospital” a sassy, magical, melodramatic love child who won't sit down and—the reader can only hope—will never shut up.
This delightful novel is the third from Ana Castillo, who won an American Book...
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SOURCE: “Battling with Magic,” in Washington Post, May 31, 1993, p. D6.
[In the following mixed review, Polk gives a positive assessment of So Far from God's plot, but finds the magical-realism format to be overused and unoriginal.]
Have we had enough of the magical yet? Is there still room on the world's bookshelves for another Hispanic novel set in a dusty town where life and death coexist, and where the marvelous is commonplace?
The trouble with So Far from God, no matter how frequently engaging and well crafted it may be—and it is both—is that it strikes too many familiar chords. From the opening, when Sofi's 3-year-old...
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SOURCE: “Faith, Hope, Charity—and Sophia,” in Belles Lettres, Vol. 9, No. 1, Fall, 1993, pp. 52–53.
[In the following positive review of So Far from God, Carr argues that although Castillo's writing sounds forced at times, the novel itself is thoroughly enjoyable.]
In this amusing and often farcical tragicomedy, the central characters, Sofia and her four daughters, Esperanza (Hope), Fe (Faith), Caridad (Charity), and la Loca (the crazy one) suffer many “misfortunes” during their lives in the small town of Tome, New Mexico. The opening lines of the book are appropriately melodramatic:
La Loca was only three...
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SOURCE: “‘i too was of that small corner of the world’: The Cross-Cultural Experience in Ana Castillo's The Mixquiahuala Letters (1986),” in Americas Review, Vol. 21, Nos. 3–4, Fall–Winter, 1993, pp. 128–38.
[In the following essay, Bus explores the cultural attitudes and the journey of self-discovery that Teresa and Alicia undertake in The Mixquiahuala Letters, and how these issues affect their constantly changing relationship.]
Ana Castillo's first novel, The Mixquiahuala Letters1 consists of 40 letters the Chicana Teresa writes to her friend Alicia. The letters take an inventory of “the cesspool twirl of our 20s”...
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SOURCE: “A MELUS Interview: Ana Castillo,” in MELUS, Vol. 22, No. 3, Fall, 1997, pp. 133–49.
[In the following excerpt, compiled from interviews and conversations between Saeta and Castillo between 1993 and 1994, Castillo explains how her Chicana background, feminist beliefs, and other Latin American writers influence her writing.]
Over the last three decades, Chicano literature has experienced its own renaissance. Many of the voices in that literary renacimiento belong to women—by the 1990s, nearly two-thirds of the contemporary literature was being written by women. Firmly committed to challenging and redefining the gender, race, culture, and class...
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SOURCE: “And So Close to the United States,” in Commonweal, Vol. 121, No. 1, January 14, 1994, pp. 37–38.
[In the following mixed review, Stavans expresses disappointment with So Far from God, finding Castillo's earlier work to be more original and vastly superior.]
The recent renaissance of Latino letters is led by a number of very accomplished women. This, of course, is good news. It has, after all, taken far too long to find Hispanic women a room of their own in the library of world literature. With the exception of Sor Juana Ines de La Cruz, a seventeenth-century Mexican nun who astonished the Spanish-speaking world with her conceptual sonnets and...
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SOURCE: “Debunking Myths: The Hero's Role in Ana Castillo's Sapogonia,” in Americas Review, Vol. 22, Nos. 1–2, Spring–Summer, 1994, pp. 244–58.
[In the following essay, Gómez-Vega examines the character traits that define Sapogonia's anti-hero, Máximo Madrigal, and the true hero(ine), Pastora.]
The characters in Ana Castillo's Sapogonia evolve out of a cultural mind set defined by sexual identity. In this novel, Castillo creates Máximo Madrigal, the “anti-hero,” a character who functions within an intrinsically male-identified culture in order to expose his lack of human connectedness as the direct result of his living by a male...
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SOURCE: “Simply a Question of Belief,” in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4774, September 30, 1994, p. 25.
[In the following positive review, Hellein finds So Far from God to be a well-written novel full of magic realism and humor.]
Ana Castillo So Far from God creates the illusion of a story told orally, in strong Latin American accents. As in the best tradition of folktales, an informal tone preserves the nuances of spoken narrative and a local flavour is added by a generous sprinkling of Latino-Hispanic words and local lore. Magic is not merely an accoutrement, but it is firmly rooted at the novel's heart and alters the lives of the principal...
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SOURCE: “Ana Castillo: The Protest Poet Goes Mainstream,” in Publishers Weekly, August 12, 1996, pp. 59–60.
[In the following interview, Castillo discusses her formative years, inspirations for her writing, and her upcoming projects.]
The road from the nearest el stop to Ana Castillo's North Side Chicago home curves for several blocks alongside the solemn, deserted expanse of historic Graceland Cemetery and then enters an offbeat shopping district that features a fortune-teller's storefront, a shuttered nightclub and a Mexican restaurant incongruously named Lolita's. Far from seeming out of place, these picturesque locations mesh perfectly with the bustling...
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SOURCE: “An Antidote for Women Who Get Bitten,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 25, 1996, p. 8.
[In the following review, Scofield offers a negative assessment of Loverboys, voicing her disappointment with the short and repetitive stories.]
The most astonishing tale in Ana Castillo's new book, a collection of stories, is the last, called “By Way of Acknowledgment.” An itinerant writer, “scattered by the wind” that surrounds her fate, suddenly gets money out of nowhere, suddenly gets a contract for a book she hasn't yet written. She races back to “Chi-town,” where there are her comadres, with their faith and passion and generosity,...
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SOURCE: “Love among the Golden Cockroaches,” in Washington Post Book World, Vol. XXVI, No. 35, September 1, 1996, p. 6.
[In the following mixed review of Loverboys, Titchener states that the short stories display skillful characterizations, but are lacking in plot.]
WARNING: I prefer stories with sympathetic or, at least, engaging protagonists. I regard a clear conflict with a satisfying resolution at the story's end as important plot elements. I subscribe to the “show-don't-tell” theory of storytelling and love to watch characters come to life on a page by means of action and dialogue. Unfortunately for me and for readers who share my literary tastes,...
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SOURCE: “No Country to Call Home: A Study of Castillo's Mixquiahuala Letters,” in Style, Vol. 30, No. 3, Fall, 1996, pp. 462–78.
[In the following essay, Bennett provides an in-depth study of the dynamics of the relationship between Teresa and Alicia in The Mixquiahuala Letters.]
I cannot say I am a citizen of the world as Virginia Woolf, speaking as an Anglo woman born to economic means, declared herself; nor can I make the same claim to U.S. citizenship as Adrienne Rich does despite her universal feeling for humanity. As a mestiza born to the lower strata, I am treated at best, as a second class citizen, at worst, as a non-entity. I am...
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SOURCE: “Remapping the Territory: Ana Castillo's The Mixquiahuala Letters,” in Epistolary Responses: The Letter in 20th-Century American Fiction and Criticism, University of Alabama Press, 1997, pp. 132–50, 194–95.
[In the following essay, Bower explores Teresa's relationship with herself, Alicia, and the other characters in The Mixquiahuala Letters.]
Epistolary novels place primacy on the acts of writing and reading. I have contended that as they write to others of various events, feelings, and thoughts and as they read others' responses to their letters, characters in these novels rewrite or redefine themselves. In addition, they offer to themselves...
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SOURCE: A review of Loverboys, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 17, No. 1, Spring, 1997, p. 201.
[In the following review, Evenson offers a mixed assessment of certain stories in Loverboys, but overall receives the collection favorably.]
As one of the more accomplished of Latina writers, Castillo is often able to paint a vivid image of characters and the way in which they are affected by their sense of who they are and what their cultures tell them to be. Nevertheless, despite the fact that many of its individual stories are successful, Loverboys is interesting less for the stories taken separately than for the resonances that begin to...
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SOURCE: “Queering Chicano/a Narratives: Lesbian as a Healer, Saint and Warrior in Ana Castillo's So Far from God,” in Midwest Modern Language Association, Vol. 30, Nos. 1–2, Spring, 1997, pp. 63–80.
[In the following essay, Morrow examines the character Caridad in So Far from God, and how Caridad's lesbianism is a liberating factor in the male-dominant Mexican culture.]
One of the most conspicuous features of Mexican-American liberatory and feminist discourses is their radicalization of traditional narratives for the purpose of social reform.1 These discourses were constructed by Chicana/o rights activists in the 1960s and Chicana...
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SOURCE: “Divinely Subversive,” in Women's Review of Books, Vol. 14, No. 8, May, 1997, pp. 16–17.
[In the following review of Goddess of the Americas: Writings on the Virgin of Guadalupe, Caputi shows appreciation for the provocative essays in the collection, but criticizes the brief annotations and the lack of a concluding essay.]
My Italian immigrant grandmother, Margaret, was extremely religious, but not the variety I had experienced in Church. She practiced a folk Catholicism that entailed petitions to specific saints and special devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Her bedroom housed scores of statues of these saints as well as many Madonnas. I would sit...
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SOURCE: “Hearing the Voices: Women and Home and Ana Castillo's So Far from God,” in MELUS, Vol. 23, No. 1, Spring, 1998, pp. 65–80.
[In the following essay, Lanza examines both the physical and the abstract idea of “home” in So Far from God.]
I tie up my hair into loose braids, and trust only what I have built with my own hands.
—Lorna Dee Cervantes
In the nineteenth century, Louisa May Alcott made subjects of objects when she wrote her domestic novel Little Women, which centered on four sisters and their mother during the American Civil War. Alcott created a home...
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SOURCE: “The Cultural Politics of Dislocation and Relocation in the Novels of Ana Castillo,” in MELUS, Vol. 23, No. 1, Spring, 1998, pp. 81–97.
[In the following essay, Walter analyzes how characters in Ana Castillo's novels are often subjected to struggles for identity and for freedom from oppression.]
Now, I-woman am going to blow up the Law … in language.
(Cixous “The Laughing Medusa” 887)
By creating a new mythos—that is, a change in the way we perceive reality, the way we see ourselves, and the ways we behave—la mestiza creates a new consciousness....
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SOURCE: “Ana Castillo's Story of a Worn Woman Who Seeks to Understand Her Past and Imagine Her Future,” in Chicago Tribune Books, September 26, 1999, pp. 1, 3.
[In the following review, Martinez offers a positive assessment of Peel My Love like an Onion and commends Castillo's ability to create compelling stories.]
Carmen Santos suffers, and we learn from it. The wise and able self-styled “crippled” flamenco dancer of Ana Castillo's latest novel, Peel My Love like an Onion, takes us on a journey through a subculture so esoteric it seems as strange as the men who love and leave and love Carmen, and yet is made familiar by the stirring recollections...
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SOURCE: “Borrowed Homes, Homesickness, and Memory in Ana Castillo's Sapogonia,” in AZTLAN: A Journal of Chicano Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2, Fall, 1999, pp. 73–94.
[In the following essay, Socolovsky highlights the contradictory elements of Máximo Madrigal, the anti-hero of Sapogonia: hero versus antihero, power versus loss of control, exile versus tourist, memories of the past versus the present, and Madrigal's homesickness for his fatherland versus his yearning for a motherland.]
We pretend that we are trees and speak of roots. Look under your feet. You will not find gnarled growths sprouting through the soles. Roots, I sometimes...
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SOURCE: “No Silence for This Dreamer: The Stories of Ana Castillo,” in Poets & Writers, Vol. 28, No. 2, March–April, 2000, pp. 32–39.
[In the following essay, Shea discusses Castillo's life, writings on feminism and Xicanisma, and her upcoming works.]
Ana Castillo was on the ballot. When the Chicago Sun Times put together a survey in 1999 to determine the greatest Chicagoans of the century, Castillo, “writer,” was featured in an alphabetical list that included a saint—Mother Cabrini—legendary sportscaster Harry Caray, and First Lady Hillary Clinton. Does that inclusion mean that this outspoken, passionate, and determined woman, who has gained...
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SOURCE: “Chicana/o Fiction from Resistance to Contestation: The Role of Creation in Ana Castillo's So Far from God,” in MELUS, Vol. 25, No. 2, Summer, 2000, pp. 63–82.
[In the following essay, Rodriguez explores Castillo's contesting of political, social, sexual, and religious standards and beliefs in So Far from God.]
The past two decades have given us a wealth of Chicana and Chicano literature, both because of the exemplary work of the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage project in discovering and recovering older texts and because of the sheer boom in Chicana/o publications over the last fifteen years. Even the nonspecialist now recognizes...
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SOURCE: “Rebellion and Tradition in Ana Castillo's So Far from God and Sylvia López-Medina's Cantora,” in MELUS, Vol. 25, No. 2, Summer, 2000, p. 83.
[In the following essay, Sirias and McGarry compare Castillo's So Far from God and Sylvia López-Medina's Cantora, noting similar characters and situations in both novels, but contrasting the characters' responses and actions.]
The Chicana “voice” in literature, according to Ramón Saldivar, comprises a discourse that creates “an instructive alternative to the exclusively phallocentric subject of contemporary Chicano narrative” (175). As Cordelia Chávez Candelaria reports,...
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