Sabine Ulibarrí Essay - Critical Essays

Ulibarrí, Sabine


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."

Principal Works

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.


Olga Prjevalinsky Ferrer (review date Spring-Summer 1962)

[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 poetry.

Sabine Ulibarrí is skillful in tracing a decorative representation of the outer world, which is genuine. He may use words borrowed from woman's environment of arts and toils and blends them beautifully with his description. Coloration is also true and personal. Were he to stop there, the poem would be perfectly achieved ("Crepúsculo," for example). However, a...

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Thelma Campbell Nason (essay date 1971)

[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.

The descendants of the first colonists, who still inhabit the area, are more Spanish than American. Part of the paradox of New Mexico is the fact that the Hispanic heritage becomes more ingrown and more intense the farther it is removed from its colonial source, the "New Spain" or Mexico of three centuries ago. Spanish is the universal...

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Theodore A. Sackett (review date December 1972)

[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...

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Rudolfo A. Anaya (essay date 1977)

[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...

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Charles M. Tatum (review date Summer 1978)

[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,...

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Francesca Miller (essay date Winter 1983)

[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...

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Charles Tatum (essay date 1989)

[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,...

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Bruce-Novoa (review date January-February 1990)

[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...

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Allan Johnston (review date Summer 1991)

[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.


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Further Reading


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....

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