Rudolfo Anaya Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Rudolfo Alfonso Anaya, son of Martin and Rafaelita Mares Anaya, was born on October 30, 1937, in Pastura, a small farming village in the eastern part of New Mexico. At sixteen, Anaya suffered a near-fatal spinal injury while diving into a shallow irrigation ditch, but he still managed to attend school in the neighboring town of Santa Rosa and ultimately, after his family relocated in 1952, in the barrios of Albuquerque. As a child, Anaya loved listening to the folktales, legends, and historic narratives of his grandparents. From 1956 to 1958, he attended the Browning Business School, but, finding the prospect of an accounting career unrewarding, he transferred to the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, where he earned a B.A. in English in 1963. Within the university environment, Anaya first questioned his own cultural identity: a Latino for whom English was a second language suddenly surrounded by a culturally diverse community. He would later recall being disturbed by the absence of literature devoted to the Mexican American experience.

From 1963 until 1970, Anaya taught in the Albuquerque public schools but devoted his evenings to his own writing. During this time, he completed both an M.A. in English (1968) and an M.A. in guidance and counseling (1972) from the University of New Mexico. In 1971, he left the public school system to become the director of counseling at the University of Albuquerque. He remained at this job for two years until the publication of his first novel.

His first novel, Bless Me, Ultima, was published in 1972 after considerable difficulty finding a publisher interested in a story that blended realism with mysticism, including a magic healer and a wicked witch. It tells the story of the relationship between Antonio, a young boy growing up in a small New Mexico village, and Ultima, his grandmother and spiritual guide, who helps him to understand his experiences. The book proved an enormous critical and commercial success and was translated into several languages. Bless Me, Ultima received the Premio Quinto Sol Award, Anaya’s first national...

(The entire section is 863 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Since the publication of his first work, Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya has brought into America’s mainstream literary discussion the complex identity crisis facing the contemporary Mexican American. Anaya defined that spiritual and moral crisis in terms that see the Chicano experience in a much larger frame of reference, making the Chicano quest for identity and spiritual fulfillment a larger, twentieth century dilemma. Drawing on his background in Catholicism and his upbringing listening to the fabulous tales of his Spanish ancestry, Anaya melded elements of social realism, folklore, myth, and the supernatural that, in turn, pioneered an audaciously experimental kind of narrative that freely mingled the realistic and the magical.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Rudolfo Alfonso Anaya was born in Pastura, New Mexico, on October 30, 1937, one of seven children, the only male among his siblings to attend school (his three brothers fought in World War II). His mother (Rafaelita Mares), a devout Catholic, came from a farming community; his father (Martín Anaya) grew up among nomadic herders on the eastern plains and worked as a cowboy. The family moved to Santa Rosa, New Mexico, while Rudolfo was still a child, then, in 1952, to the tough Albuquerque barrios, where he attended high school. The young Anaya, who spoke only Spanish before he entered school, struggled with English immersion. Spanish oral storytelling enlivened his childhood as the barrio life of music, street gangs, racism, and closed community did his adolescence. As a high school sophomore, Anaya broke two vertebrae diving in an irrigation ditch, necessitating a long, painful convalescence. These experiences were crucial to his first three novels: his early countryside years inspiring Bless Me, Ultima, his Albuquerque experiences influencing Heart of Aztlán, and his painful injury leading to Tortuga.

After studying accounting at Browning Business School (1956-1958), Anaya transferred to the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1963. There he reflected on his cultural identity: a Latino for whom English remained a second language thrust into a culturally diverse...

(The entire section is 587 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Rudolfo Anaya began writing during his days as a student at the University of New Mexico. His poetry and early novels dealt with major questions about his existence, beliefs, and identity. Anaya ended that phase of his life by burning all of the manuscripts of his work.

After college he took a teaching job and got married. He found his wife to be a great source of encouragement and an excellent editor and companion. Anaya began writing Bless Me, Ultima in the 1960’s. He struggled with the work until in one of his creative moments Ultima appeared to him. She became the strongest character of the novel as well as the spiritual mentor for the novelist and the protagonist. Ultima led the way to a successful work. Anaya’s next task was to get his novel published. After dozens of rejection letters from major publishers, Anaya turned to Quinto Sol Publications, a Chicano small press in Berkeley, California. The publishers not only accepted the work for publication but also recognized Anaya with the Quinto Sol Award for writing the best Chicano novel of 1972.

Bless Me, Ultima represents the first novel of a trilogy. The other two are Heart of Aztlán and Tortuga. Heart of Aztlán came as a result of Anaya’s travels in Mexico during the 1960’s, which raised the question of the relationship between the pre-Columbian Aztec world, called Aztlán, and Chicano destiny. Tortuga was inspired by an diving accident at an irrigation ditch during Anaya’s high school days. The accident left Anaya disabled; the protagonist in the novel also experiences such events. The quality of the first three works enshrined Anaya as the foremost Chicano novelist of his time. His numerous other excellent works have confirmed this high regard. The essence of his literary production reflects the search for the meaning of existence as it is expressed in Chicano community life.

Anaya’s works blend realistic description of daily life with the hidden magic of humanity; his work may be categorized as having the qualities of Magical Realism, which mingles in a straightforward narrative tone the mystical and magical with the everyday. Most of his developed characters reflect this duality.