Rudolfo Anaya Anaya, Rudolfo - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.”

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Bless Me, Ultima (novel) 1972

Heart of Aztlán (novel) 1976

Tortuga (novel) 1979

The Silence of the Llano (short stories) 1982

The Legend of La Llorona (novel) 1984

The Adventures of Juan Chicaspatas (poetry) 1985

A Chicano in China (nonfiction) 1986

The Farolitos of Christmas: A New Mexican Christmas Story (juvenilia) 1987

Lord of the Dawn: The Legend of Quetzalcóatl (legends) 1987

Alburquerque (novel) 1992

The Anaya Reader (prose, essays, and plays) 1995

Zia Summer (novel) 1995

Jalamanta: A Message from the Desert (novel) 1996

Rio Grande Fall (novel) 1996

Farolitos for Abuelo [illustrated by Edward Gonzales] (juvenilia) 1998

My Land Sings: Stories from the Rio Grande [illustrated by Amy Cordova] (short stories) 1999

Shaman Winter (novel) 1999

An Elegy on the Death of Cesar Chavez [illustrated by Gaspar Enriquez] (poetry) 2000

Roadrunner's Dance [illustrated by David Diaz] (juvenilia) 2000

Jane Rogers (essay date Spring–Summer 1977)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Function of the La Llorona Motif in Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima,” in Latin American Literary Review, Vol. V, No. 10, Spring–Summer, 1977, pp. 64–69.

[In the following essay, Rogers examines the archetypal themes of passage, longing, and deadly seduction in Bless Me, Ultima, drawing attention to the symbolism and imagery of the “la llorona” myth.]

In The Odyssey, Circe warns the homeward-bound Odysseus of the menace of the Sirens, who, surrounded by the mouldering skeletons of men, lure and bewitch the unaware man with the music of their song. Yet just beyond their lovely voices—that Odysseus escapes by having...

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Antonio Márquez (essay date 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Achievement of Rudolfo A. Anaya,” in The Magic of Words: Rudolfo A. Anaya and His Writings, edited by Paul Vassallo, University of New Mexico Press, 1982, pp. 33–52.

[In the following essay, Márquez discusses Anaya's contribution to Chicano literature and provides an overview of the central themes, artistic aims, and critical reception of Bless Me, Ultima, Heart of Aztlán, and Tortuga.]

The homage to Rudolfo Anaya comes at an appropriate time. Recently, The New York Times Book Review belatedly granted him national status. Moreover, Anaya's work is on the verge of international recognition. The growing interest in Anaya and other...

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Rudolfo Anaya with John Crawford (interview date May 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Rudolfo Anaya,” in This is about Vision: Interviews with Southwestern Writers, edited by William Balassi, John F. Crawford, and Annie O. Eysturoy, University of New Mexico Press, 1990, pp. 83–93.

[In the following interview, originally conducted in May 1986, Anaya comments on his formative influences, the development of Chicano literature, his interest in mythology, and the problems of cultural identity and political consciousness in Bless Me, Ultima, Heart of Aztlán, and Tortuga.]

Rudolfo Anaya—novelist, short story writer, oral historian, editor, and college professor—has spoken frequently of his relationship to the llano, the harsh...

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Robert M. Adams (review date 26 March 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Natives and Others,” in New York Review of Books, March 26, 1987, pp. 32–36.

[In the following excerpt, Adams explores the issue of ethnic identity in Bless Me, Ultima.]

Nobody in Santa Fe really belongs there unless his line stretches back, by one genealogical trapeze act or another, to the seventeenth century; so my wife and I—native New Yorkers both—have adapted without strain to being outsiders and aliens. Who doesn't feel like a transplant in America? Here there's nothing else to be. It's an oasis culture; nobody gets much more than his minimal quota of earth, air, and water, and who needs more? Every so often, just to make contact with our...

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A. Robert Lee (essay date 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Ethnic Renaissance: Rudolfo Anaya, Louise Erdrich, and Maxine Hong Kingston,” in The New American Writing: Essays on American Literature since 1970, edited by Graham Clarke, St. Martin's Press, 1990, pp. 139–64.

[In the following excerpt, Lee discusses the rise of American ethnic literature in the 1960s and focuses on Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima as an example of Chicano literature and its emphasis on cultural identity, tradition, and displacement.]

Ethnic art is the American mainstream. …

—Ishmael Reed, Interview, ‘The Third Ear,’ B.B.C. Radio 3, April 19891


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Rudolfo Anaya with R. S. Sharma (interview date 7 April 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Interview with Rudolfo Anaya,” in Prairie Schooner, Vol. 68, No. 4, Winter, 1994, pp. 177–87.

[In the following interview, originally conducted in 1992, Anaya discusses the state of Chicano literature in the United States, as well as his own literary aims, cultural concerns, and identity as a Chicano writer.]

This interview was taped on April 7, 1992 in his office at the University of New Mexico. R. S. Sharma teaches in the Department of English, Osmania University, Hyderabad, India.

[Sharma:] Rudy, I am in this country to learn about the writers. You are one of the major voices of...

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Kevin McIlvoy (review date 30 August 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Celebrating the Old Ways,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 30, 1992, p. 8.

[In the following review, McIlvoy offers a positive assessment of Alburquerque.]

Alburquerque is an archetypal story of a young man's initiation into self-acceptance and, finally, kinship with others. The truth offered in Rudolfo Anaya's newest novel is deceptively simple: Tu eres tu. You are who you are.

In Bless Me, Ultima, Heart of Aztlán, Tortuga, Silence of the Llano, and his works of nonfiction, this extraordinary storyteller has always written unpretentiously but provocatively about identity. Every work is...

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Jordan Jones (review date Fall 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Alburquerque, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 12, No. 3, Fall, 1992, pp. 201–02.

[In the following review, Jones offers a favorable assessment of Alburquerque.]

At the age of twenty-one, Abrán González—the former Golden Gloves boxer and pride of the Albuquerque barrio—discovers at the deathbed of his birth mother Cynthia Johnson that he was adopted and is half Anglo. This revelation begins Abrán's quest for his father, which forms the center of a magical book that heals like the hands of a curandera shaman.

Alburquerque fairly brims with considerations of origins. The title reclaims the city's...

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Rudolfo Anaya with Ray González (interview date March 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Songlines of the Southwest: An Interview with Rudolfo A. Anaya,” in Conversations with Rudolfo Anaya, edited by Bruce Dick and Silvio Sirias, University Press of Mississippi, 1998, pp. 153–60.

[In the following interview, originally conducted in 1993 and published in The Bloomsbury Review, Anaya addresses his retirement from the University of New Mexico, his writing projects, the lasting influence of Bless Me, Ultima, and his views on contemporary Chicano literature.]

From The Bloomsbury Review, Sept/Oct 1993: 3, 18. Reprinted by permission of publisher and Ray González.


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Feroza Jussawalla (review date Winter 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Alburquerque, in World Literature Today, Vol. 68, No. 1, Winter, 1994, p. 125.

[In the following review, Jussawalla offers a positive assessment of Alburquerque, but notes that it does not measure up to Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima.]

Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima is probably the best novel I have ever read. It has had a powerful impact on my thinking about differences in cultures and how we can bring them together through our own spirituality. Every semester I find some excuse to teach it, whether in children's literature, in my “Introduction to Fiction” courses, or in composition classes. Alburquerque is not such a...

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William Clark (essay date 21 March 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Mainstream Discovers Rudolfo Anaya,” in Publishers Weekly, March 21, 1994, p. 24.

[In the following essay, Clark discusses the enduring success of Bless Me, Ultima, and Anaya's increasing mainstream popularity and recognition.]

What may be most striking about the six-title, six-figure book deal that New Mexico author Rudolfo Anaya recently concluded with Warner Books is that this major recognition has been so slow in coming.

Long hailed as one of the founding fathers of Chicano literature, described in the New York Times Book Review as “the novelist most widely known and read in the Latino community,” in...

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Ray González (review date 18 July 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Desert Songs,” in Nation, July 18, 1994, pp. 98–101.

[In the following excerpt, González examines the lasting achievement of Bless Me, Ultima and Anaya's significance as a groundbreaking Chicano writer.]

After twenty-two years as the most important and influential Chicano novel ever written, although available only from a small press, Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima has been reprinted in hardcover and mass-market editions by Warner Books. A timeless work of youth and rites of passage, Tonatiuh-Quinto Sol's edition sold more than 300,000 copies in two decades of classroom use and word-of-mouth readership. Despite Anaya's impact as a...

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William Clark (essay date 5 June 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Rudolfo Anaya: ‘The Chicano Worldview,’” in Publishers Weekly, June 5, 1995, pp. 41–42.

[In the following essay, Clark provides an overview of Anaya's life, literary career, and growing recognition as a founding father of contemporary Chicano literature.]

From the large, east-facing windows of his home high on the mesa west of Albuquerque, N.M., Rudolfo Anaya commands a sweeping panorama of the Rio Grande Valley. The city where this legendary 57–year-old Chicano author has lived his varied and prolific literary life spreads out below, threaded by the sinuous bosque, the forest of giant cottonwoods, that flanks the Great River.


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A. Robert Lee (essay date 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Chicanismo as Memory: The Fictions of Rudolfo Anaya, Nash Candelaria, Sandra Cisneros, and Ron Arias,” in Memory and Cultural Politics: New Approaches to American Ethnic Literatures, edited by Amritjit Singh, Joseph T. Skerrett Jr., and Robert E. Hogan, Northeastern University Press, 1996, pp. 320–39.

[In the following excerpt, Lee explores the complex matrix of historical, geographic, and cultural legacies that underlies Chicano identity, as well as the significance of memory and remembrance in Chicano literature, particularly in Bless Me, Ultima.]


For those...

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Pilar Bellver Saez (review date Spring 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Zia Summer, in World Literature Today, Vol. 70, No. 2, Spring, 1996, p. 403.

[In the following review, Saez offers a positive assessment of Zia Summer.]

Zia Summer, Rudolfo Anaya's latest novel, is a detective story that develops the themes of cultural identification and survival. The murder of Gloria Dominic triggers a literary quest that leads Sonny Baca, an amateur Chicano private eye and Gloria's cousin, to uncover a terrorist plot to turn the city into a nuclear wasteland. Set against the background of New Mexico in the 1990s, a time of growth in the West, the story examines the perils of rapid and culturally blind economic...

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Farhat Iftekharuddin (essay date Summer 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Gender Roles in Rudolfo Anaya's The Silence of the Llano,1 in Journal of Modern Language, Vol. 20, No. 1, Summer, 1996, pp. 121–28.

[In the following essay, Iftekharuddin examines traditional Hispanic conceptions of gender and the portrayal of women as temptresses and victims of sexual violence in Anaya's short fiction.]

A noticeable feature in Mexican American literature is the suggestion, at once implicit and explicit, that culture, history, and setting are the decisive factors determining identity and destiny. The shared history of two nations—Mexico and the United States—which is the inheritance of Mexican Americans, provides...

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William Anthony Nericcio (review date Autumn 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Jalamanta, in World Literature Today, Vol. 70, No. 4, Autumn, 1996, pp. 957–58.

[In the following review, Nericcio offers an unfavorable assessment of Jalamanta.]

In January of 1996 a writer for Publishers Weekly, that chronicler of esthetically noteworthy textual effluvia, fell to reviewing Rudolfo Anaya's Jalamanta. The less-than-exhilarated reviewer found it “a sharp departure from the yeasty realism that won [Anaya] a large readership,” ultimately labeling it a “preachy New Age parable” with “lofty sentiments” which become “somewhat platitudinous with repetition.” I wish I could be as gentle.


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Theresa M. Kanoza (essay date Summer 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Golden Carp and Moby Dick: Rudolfo Anaya's Multi-Culturalism,” in MELUS, Vol. 24, No. 2, Summer, 1999, pp. 159–71.

[In the following essay, Kanoza presents a thematic analysis of Bless Me, Ultima and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, contending that there are “thematic and tonal links” between the two novels.]

In Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya presents a world of opposites in the New Mexican village of Guadalupe. The parents of the young protagonist Antonio have strikingly different temperaments, as dissimilar to each other as the backgrounds from which they hail. Maria Luna Marez, the pious daughter of Catholic farmers from the...

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Margarite Fernández Olmos (essay date 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Bless Me, Ultima,” in Rudolfo A. Anaya: A Critical Companion, Greenwood Press, 1999, pp. 25–44.

[In the following essay, Olmos provides an overview of the major themes, narrative techniques, and critical interpretations of Bless Me, Ultima.]

In Rudolfo Anaya's first novel he turned to his life experiences for inspiration. The story of the awakening of the consciousness of a young boy growing up in a small New Mexico town shortly after World War II closely parallels the author's own life (see chapter 1 herein). At the same time, however, Bless Me, Ultima is a highly original work with a unique story and a universal appeal that established...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Barrientos, Tanya. “Rudolfo Anaya's Simmering Mystery Is a Recipe that Failed.” Chicago Tribune (25 September 1996): 3.

Barrientos offers a negative assessment of Rio Grande Fall.

Davis-Undiano, Robert Con. Review of Shaman Winter, by Rudolfo Anaya. Hispanic 12, Nos. 1–2 (January–February 1999): 106.

Davis-Undiano offers a positive assessment of Shaman Winter.

Espinoza, Marth. “A Passion for History.” Hispanic 12, No. 9 (September 1999): 64.

Espinoza provides an overview of Anaya's life, work, and achievements.


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