Sabine Ulibarrí

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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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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."

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Principal Works