Rudolfo Anaya 1937-
(Full name Rudolfo Alfonso Anaya) American novelist, short story writer, children's writer, poet, essayist, playwright, and critic.
The following entry presents an overview of Anaya's career through 1999. See also Rudolfo Anaya Criticism (Volume 23).
One of the most influential authors in Chicano literature, Anaya has been acclaimed for his skillful utilization of realism, fantasy, and myth in his novels that explore the experiences of Hispanics in the American Southwest. Critics have noted that Anaya's unique style was profoundly influenced by his fascination with the mystical nature of Spanish-American cuentos, or folk tales, in the oral tradition. Anaya first established his literary reputation with his acclaimed debut novel, Bless Me, Ultima (1972). Anaya's preoccupation with myth and folklore—including his unique negotiation between mystical and realistic depictions of indigenous New Mexican life in the twentieth century—extends his prose beyond regional fiction and toward a more universal portrayal of human experience. Anaya's departure from the highly politicized tone of the Chicano writing of the 1960s distinguishes him from his peers, and the complexity of his characters breaks from the stereotypical portrayal of those in the Chicano community as simple, working peasants.
Anaya was born on October 30, 1937, in Pastura, New Mexico. He spent his childhood in the village of Santa Rosa, New Mexico and moved to Albuquerque as an adolescent. His hospitalization for a spinal injury in his childhood was a formative experience that he revisited fictionally in Tortuga (1979), a novel about a young boy burdened with a body cast. After briefly attending business school, Anaya earned a B.A. and M.A. in English, as well as an M.A. in counseling, from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. After college, he worked as a public school teacher and a counselor. Anaya eventually returned to the University of New Mexico as a professor of English, where he helped found the well-known creative writing journal Blue Mesa Review. Anaya has since retired from teaching to work as a full-time writer. His literary honors include the Premio Quinto Sol national Chicano literary award for Bless Me, Ultima, the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award for Tortuga, and the PEN-West Fiction Award for Alburquerque (1992). He has also received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Chicano Council of Higher Education, and the Kellogg Foundation. Anaya's major novels have been translated into several languages, garnering him international critical attention.
Anaya's writing is strongly influenced by the oral tradition of storytelling inherent to his Hispanic roots. His strict Catholic upbringing and the llano (open plain) of rural New Mexico are two major themes in his writing; his works continually refer to both as “havens” from which his characters are often exiled. His novels and stories attempt to structurally replicate the dynamic nature of storytelling. They are ordered organically, by natural and psychological cycles, instead of constructing plots that focus on external or historical events. Anaya repeatedly employs dream imagery to obscure the gap between the unconscious and the conscious. This allows both realms of analysis to be subjected to an artistic ambiguity more often associated with poetry or folklore than the realistic novel. Other archetypal images and themes frequently emerge in Anaya's work, emphasizing nature, faith, and the alienating effects of modern capitalism. The figures of the witch and the curandera—a healer who uses traditional herbal remedies—appear in many of Anaya's stories, and comprise the dual roles of the title character of Bless Me, Ultima. Young Antonio Márez, the novel's protagonist, sees Ultima, an old woman, as a representation of a dwindling way of life. Ultima also acts as a living reminder of Antonio's childhood, his ancestral roots, and the way that modern North American urban life rejects faith and mysticism. The quest for self-knowledge and the reconciliation between old and new American cultures in Bless Me, Ultima is variously reworked in Heart of Aztlán (1976), Tortuga, and in many of Anaya's short stories. While the setting of Bless Me, Ultima is predominantly rural, Heart of Aztlán deals with more urban and political landscapes. The novel traces the experiences of the Chávez family following their move from a small village in Mexico to the Barelas barrio in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The reactions of the family members to urban life—ranging from drug addiction and violence to a sacralization of the rural homeland—illustrates the myriad pressures that Chicanos face as they adjust to modernity, technology, and capitalism. Tortuga details the recovery of a sixteen-year-old boy following a paralyzing accident. Anaya uses the boy's physical healing to show the tranquility of self-knowledge and the importance of physical and mental well-being on a communal level. The health of the greater community is symbolized by a hospital for crippled children, the primary setting of the novel. Anaya has contended that Bless Me, Ultima, Heart of Aztlán, and Tortuga “are a definite trilogy in my mind. They are not only about growing up in New Mexico, they are about life.”
In the 1990s, Anaya wrote four mystery thrillers—Alburquerque, Zia Summer (1995), Rio Grande Fall (1996), and Shaman Winter (1999). Like his previous fictional “trilogy,” these works expand upon his analysis of life in the New Mexican barrio while at the same time telling compelling detective stories. In addition to his novels and short stories in The Silence of the Llano (1982), Anaya has also published children's fiction, including Farolitos for Abuelo (1998) and My Land Sings (1999); poetry in The Adventures of Juan Chicaspatas (1985) and An Elegy on the Death of Cesar Chavez (2000); a travel journal, A Chicano in China (1986); and several plays, radio scripts, and essays reflecting on contemporary Chicano life.
Bless Me, Ultima has generated more critical reaction than any other novel in contemporary Chicano literature. Critics of this work have found Anaya's story unique, his narrative technique compelling, and his prose both meticulous and lyrical. The reception of Heart of Aztlán, however, was less enthusiastic. Although many critics have approved of the novel's mythic substructure, some commentators have found Anaya's intermingling of myth and politics confusing. Tortuga has also prompted a mixed critical response. Some commentators, extolling the novel's structural complexity and innovative depiction of Chicano life, have proclaimed Tortuga Anaya's best work; other critics have denigrated the novel as melodramatic and unrealistic. The works in Anaya's second series—Alburquerque, Zia Summer, Rio Grande Fall, and Shaman Winter—are widely regarded to be more commercial novels and were less well-received that his original, unofficial “trilogy” (Ultima, Heart, and Tortuga). Anaya's novels continue to be studied and analyzed with an intensity accorded to few other Hispanic writers. Praised for their universal appeal, his works have been translated into a number of languages. Of Anaya's international success, Antonio Marquez has written, “It is befitting for Anaya to receive the honor and the task of leading Chicano literature into the canons of world literature. He is the most acclaimed and the most popular and universal Chicano writer, and one of the most influential voices in contemporary Chicano literature.”