Sabine Ulibarrí 1919–
(Full name Sabine Reyes Ulibarrí) American short story writer, poet, and critic.
The following entry presents an overview of Ulibarrí's career through 1991.
Ulibarrí is a celebrated Chicano writer best known for short stories in the costumbrismo literary tradition. These works combine elements of the oral folktale and local color, depicting the history, manners, and language of the New Mexican Chicano community familiar to Ulibarrí from his childhood.
Ulibarrí was born in New Mexico. He attended the University of New Mexico, Georgetown University, and the University of California at Los Angeles. He later taught Spanish at the University of New Mexico and chaired the modern and classical languages department from 1971 until 1980. He has written and spoken in support of the Chicano Movement since its inception in the 1960s, and his works display wide knowledge of and concern for the distinctive culture of New Mexico's native Spanish-speaking population.
Ulibarrí has written poetry since childhood, and Al cielo se sube a pie, a collection of fifty short poems, was published in Mexico in 1961 and later in Spain. Amor y Ecuador, a second poetry collection, appeared in 1966. Ulibarrí is best known, however, for his short stories. The collections Tierra Amarilla: Cuentos de Nuevo México (1964; Tierra Amarilla: Stories of New Mexico/Cuentos de Nuevo México) and Mi abuela fumaba puros y otros cuentos de Tierra Amarilla/My Grandmother Smoked Cigars, and Other Tales of Tierra Amarilla (1977) contain some of his best-known works. Set for the most part in the Tierra Amarilla region of New Mexico where Ulibarrí was born, these stories depict the people, mores, and language of the area with insight and compassion. Although Ulibarrí's prose features realistic and naturalistic detail, particularly of landscape and behavior, commentators note that a poetic sensibility informs his fiction. In some stories that antedate these collections, such as those collected in El Cóndor, and Other Stories (1989), Ulibarrí combines the costumbrismo tradition with elements of magical realism, in which fantastic elements are presented objectively to obscure distinctions between illusion and reality. Many of his story collections, including Primeros encuentros/First Encounters (1982), Gobernador Glu Glu y otros cuentos/Governor Glu Glu, and Other Stories (1988), Corre el rio/Flow of the River (1992), El cóndor, and The Best of Sabine R. Ulibarrí (1993), have been published in bilingual editions in both Spanish and English.
Ulibarrí's introduction of elements of magical realism into his fiction was not enthusiastically received: Juan Bruce-Novoa proposed giving this "interesting, if not altogether successful, synthesis of New Mexican oral tradition and mainstream magical realism" the designation "magical regionalism." Ulibarrí is, however, largely commended for his facility as a costumbrista. The bilingual publication of much of Ulibarrí's short fiction makes him one of the most widely-read and accessible Chicano authors in the United States. Donald W. Urioste has written that Ulibarrí's stories "transcend the superficially picturesque and quaint intent of costumbrismo to present larger, more universal lessons about life and human conduct."
Al cielo se sube a pie (poetry) 1961
El mundo poético de Juán Ramón: Estudio estilístico de la lengua poética y de los símbolos (criticism) 1962
Tierra Amarilla: Cuentos de Nuevo México (short stories) 1964
∗[Tierra Amarilla: Stories of New Mexico/Cuentos de Nuevo México, 1971]
Amor y Ecuador (poetry) 1966
∗Mi abuela fumaba puros y otros cuentos de Tierra Amarilla/My Grandma Smoked Cigars, and Other Tales of Tierra Amarilla (short stories) 1977
∗Primeros encuentros/First Encounters (short stories) 1982
Pupurupú (short stories) 1987
∗Gobernador Glu Glu y otros cuentos/Governor Glu Glu, and Other Stories (short stories) 1988
∗El cóndor, and Other Stories (short stories) 1989
∗Corre el rio/Flow of the River (short stories) 1992
The Best of Sabine R. Ulibarrí (short stories) 1993
∗These works are published as bilingual editions in English and Spanish.
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[Below, Ferrer reviews Ulibarrí's Al cielo se sube a pie, focusing on his use of imagery and the emergence of a personal poetic voice in the collection.]
Fifty poems in search of heaven make up this book [Al cielo se sube a pie] of heterogeneous style and tone. Unity is achieved through the recurrence of themes.
Static poetry—this might be the definition of Sabine Ulibarrí's production. Quietude intensifies the relevance of a moment. For Ulibarrí it is the transference of a mood through lyric adjectivation. And this is so necessary to his poetry that even in the use of nouns, we feel that they have become void of essence and that it is only quality that exists and subsists. Thus, in the first poem, concerned with the snowclad night, by means of the combination "soft-marble" the noun has come to lose its density and consequently, one of its basic qualities and is left only with its unuttered whiteness, which is in keeping with the reiterative sequence of the concept of white in each line. Thus, the noun has been deprived of its substantivity, remaining with a merely adjectival purport.
Another circumstance of Sabine Ulibarrí's still, at times, motionless poetry dwells in the lack of verbal forms. Absence of action contributes effectively to concentration on a state of feeling, and this is what matters. The adjective carries out the greatest poetical function in Ulibarrí's...
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[In the following excerpt from her introduction to Tierra Amarilla, Nason briefly describes the historical and social context of the work.]
Tierra Amarilla. Yellow Land. The adjective evokes an erroneous concept of the small Spanish-American village whose name provides the title for [Ulibarrí's] book. Green, not yellow, is the predominant color, for the town lies in a valley cradled in the pine-haired arms of New Mexico's high northern mountains. Equally deceptive is its appearance. Somnolent, unchanging, grown shabby with the years, it impresses the casual visitor as a relic from the past, a sanctuary from modern turbulence. Yet Tierra Amarilla recently exploded into national headlines with an armed raid on the county courthouse. There are indications, too, that this glare of publicity was not merely a transient flash, that the spotlight will focus again and again on this adobe village in its stream-stitched valley.
Tierra Amarilla has never been a peaceful place. The county seat of Río Arriba County whose crowding mountains and high plateaus are snow blocked in winter and isolated in summer, it developed stalwart individualists, proud men of action who lived by struggle. Its history is interwoven with the murky complex of legal and local battles over Spanish and Mexican land grants which, since 1854, have engendered in its people a sense of injustice, envy, and sometimes hatred.
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[In the following excerpt, Sackett commends the historical interest and poetic sensibility evident in Tierra Amarilla.]
The new bi-lingual edition of the prose of Dr. Sabine Reyes Ulibarrí, Professor of Spanish Literature at the University of New Mexico and one of the best known American writers in the Spanish language, is a truly important book. [Tierra Amarilla] will be treasured by all who can appreciate the beauties of an artistic re-creation of values and a way of life which today are in a process of rapid transformation and perhaps annihilation. Those familiar with Hispanic civilization will be enchanted by ulibarrí's work. In it they will see remembrances of life in a small village of northern New Mexico; an area which was the site of one of the earliest colonizations of what was to become these United States but which even after its forced inclusion in the Union has always managed to retain its own values and unique personality.
As Thelma Nason points out in her excellent introduction, what makes these works so unusual is the fact that Ulibarrí is above all a poet. His prose is filled with realistic details including aspects of the landscape and customs of Tierra Amarilla, but his vision is not that of a realist. Likewise, though all of the selections reflect the writer's early youth, they are written by an individual who at the time of their composition is a university student and later...
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[Anaya is a novelist, short story writer, and playwright who is considered one of the most influential authors of Chicano literature. In the following introduction to Ulibarrí's My Grandma Smoked Cigars, he commends the characterizations and imagery found in the stories and places them in an oral literary tradition.]
Those of us who enjoyed the stories in Tierra Amarilla have eagerly awaited this new collection by Sabine Ulibarrí. And the wait was worthwhile, for in many ways Mi Abuela Fumaba Puros is a continuation of the former. In this bilingual edition, Ulibarrí once again combines the artistry of our oral tradition (which he knows so well) with his personal approach to the idea of story. The transformation which occurs in Mi Abuela Fumaba Puros is strikingly original.
Utilizing the author/child point of view, he reveals the memorable experiences of the child to the reader. The child moves through a childhood filled with baroque characters, while the author casually comments on the rites of passage. The result is an interplay and a tension of time and memory, of child and man.
Ulibarrí is a talented story teller, an expert in a tradition which the people of the Southwest have honed to perfection. In Mi Abuela Fumaba Puros, he addresses his readers as intimate friends, and invites us to travel with him to the world of Rìo Arriba, wherein he sketches...
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[In the following review, Tatum praises My Grandma Smoked Cigars for its sensitive character portrayal and evocatively presented memories of childhood.]
To his published works of short stories about his native northern New Mexico, noted author and scholar Sabine Ulibarrí adds ten more sensitively rendered tales. In this attractive bilingual edition, [Mi abuela fumaba puros y otros cuentos de Tierra Amarilla/My Grandma Smoked Cigars and Other Stories from Tierra Amarilla], Ulibarrí presents a tapestry of childhood memories of life among the hardy and proud hispanos of Tierra Amarilla. His stories are a series of carefully drawn sketches of individuals—family, friends, acquaintances—who play an important role in a young boy's strides toward adulthood: the matriarchal grandmother, viewed with a combination of tenderness and fear; Uncle Cirilo, of whose size and mighty voice the child lives in awe; the legendary Negro Aguilar, whose feats as an indomitable vaquero and skilled horse-tamer are reputed in the farthest reaches of the county; the astute Elacio Sandoval, the biology teacher who talks himself out of marrying a woman he does not love; Roberto, who one day goes to town to buy nails and does not return for four years.
With obvious enthusiasm, Ulibarrí shares with us the wide range of the young boy's feelings and experiences: his terror upon finding himself face-to-face with la...
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[In the following excerpt, Miller explores Ulibarrí's style and themes in First Encounters, commending especially his portrayal of relationships between different cultural groups.]
Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, in which the nine short stories of Primeros Encuentros/First Encounters are set, is duly marked on any map of the USA, but it is a place which no longer exists, in the way that none of the places and times of our youth exist. Through the skill of the artist we can recover vanished places and peoples; such is the gift of Sabine Ulibarrí that we can know, and know intimately, a community which most of us have never visited or even imagined. The people of Tierra Amarilla are ranchers, sheep-raisers, Spanish-speaking; settlers whose heritage in this northwestern corner of New Mexico stretches back 400 years. The time of the stories is the early 20th century, a time of change, of first encounters.
Much is being written currently about the southwestern borders of the United States, about the intermingling of the cultures of hispanic and northamerican peoples. Demographers count heads, estimate "legal" and "illegal" migration patterns; public policy pundits project the political effect of an increasingly hispanic population; linguists talk about Spanglish; geographers claim that the area from 100 miles south of the United States-Mexican border to 100 miles north of it constitutes a distinct...
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[Below, Tatum presents an overview of Ulibarrí's poetry and fiction, focusing on recurring themes and the author's portrayal of character.]
Poet, essayist, and prose writer, Sabine Ulibarrí holds an important place in contemporary Chicano literature. In addition to scholarly works, textbooks and thought-provoking essays, Sabine Ulibarrí has published two books of poetry, five collections of short stories, and he has edited another collection of his students' prose and poetry. All of his creative literature was originally written in Spanish although his short stories have also appeared in bilingual editions. When compared to other Chicano writers, his literary output is significant, particularly if one takes into account that he is one of a handful of contemporary Chicano writers who is completely comfortable with written literary Spanish. This fluency with written expression is a reflection of the writer's upbringing in a completely Spanish-speaking environment where Hispanics constituted the majority culture. In addition, literary Spanish was an important part of his childhood for his father would often read Spanish literature to his family. Ulibarrí's academic training and his rigorous study of the Spanish literary masters have undoubtedly reinforced his earlier language background and contributed significantly to his mastery of the language seen in his own creative works.
His two books of poetry, Al...
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[Bruce-Novoa is a distinguished Hispanic poet and critic. In the excerpt below, he offers a mixed review of El cóndor, and Other Stories, maintaining that Ulibarrí's blending of oral folktale elements with the techniques of magical realism is not entirely successful.]
Ulibarrí, a native New Mexican, is no novice. When Chicano political activism was surfacing in the mid 1960s, but before any major piece of literature associated with it had been published, two books of Ulibarrí's poetry appeared, Al cielo se sube a pie and Amor y Ecuador, in Madrid in 1966. Thus, some classify him as a precursor, one of a few established writers—including José Antonio Villarreal, John Rechy, and Fray Angélico Chávez—formed before the political activism of the sixties and never associated with the activities or the ideological stance of younger Chicanos. If his poetry supported the image of aloof author in its standard Spanish, personal instead of communal topics, and somewhat international flavor, his short fiction displayed his knowledge of and concern for the communal existence of Chicanos—he would probably call them Hispanos—in his native New Mexico. Tierra Amarilla: Stories of New Mexico/Tierra Amarilla: Cuentos de Nuevo Mexico (1971), Mi abuela fumaba puros y otros cuentos de Tierra Amarilla/My Grandmother Smoked Cigars and Other Stories of Tierra Amarilla (1977), Primeros encuentros/First...
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[Here, Johnston favorably reviews Ulibarrí's El cóndor, and Other Stories.]
Sabine Ulibarri has worked much in the realm of the folktale and the oral personal anecdote. While such works are effective, they sometimes feel unfinished; the very rough-and-hewn grace that pulls them together consigns them to a specific, limited genre. In [El Condor and Other Stories], however, Ulibarri manages, while preserving the freshness of the anecdotal, to take us to places entirely different from those explored in a book like My Grandmother Smoked Cigars. Working in the realm of cultural myth, Ulibarri introduces us to a world at once homely and exotic, familiar and fantastic.
Mixing the dominant mythology of our culture with the "myths" of cultural stereotypes, Ulibarri manages to open up both realms with gentle sarcasm. For example, in "Loripola," Ulibarri's send-up of Pygmalion, we find out that tacos, tamales, and burritos are actually the foods of the gods and that earthquakes, thunder, and lightning are the sounds of the gods throwing their "runny-nosed kids" around. "Cruzto, Indian Chief" satirizes the conversion of the Indians to Christianity, with its indigenous Christ and series of miracles, it ultimately links all creation back to art and the artist in a masterful way.
Ulibarri's assaults on stereotypes do not stop with Chicano culture. Amarta and Amarti, sister witches, go to...
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Review of Mi abuela fumaba puros/My Grandma Smoked Cigars, y otros cuentos di Tierra Amarilla, by Sabine R. Ulibarrí. English Journal 71, No. 7 (November 1982): 60.
Favorable review noting that the stories in the collection appeal to a wide readership.
Torres, Lourdes. Review of El cóndor, and Other Stories, by Sabine R. Ulibarrí. Western American Literature XXIV, No. 3 (Fall 1989): 279-80.
Praises Ulibarrí's effective handling of fantastic themes in El cóndor, and Other Stories.
Urioste, Donaldo W. "Costumbrismo in Sabine R. Ulibarrí's Tierra Amarilla: Cuentos de Nuevo México." In Missions in Conflict: Essays on U. S.-Mexican Relations and Chicano Culture, edited by Renate von Bardeleben, pp. 169-78. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1986.
Contends that Tierra Amarilla transcends the costumbrista literary tradition. Noting that the stories in the collection "focus on a facet of New Mexican life that is rapidly disappearing or is already bygone, and nostalgically depict regional customs, manners, language, types, and all the quaint local-colorist motifs that characterize this genre," Urioste maintains that they also present universal truths and themes....
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