Thomas Sanchez Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Thomas Sanchez (SAHN-chays) interweaves historical and current events with fictional narratives of people who live on the margins of society to create powerful social and political commentaries on contemporary American culture. Like many of the characters in his books, Sanchez knows what it means to be an outsider. He was born to a Portuguese mother and a Spanish father who was killed in the Pacific during World War II. His mother and grandmother worked in canning factories to support the family. Sanchez credits his grandmother, an illiterate woman who was a skilled storyteller, with helping him to develop an appreciation of language and literature.

When Sanchez was five, his mother married a man who had originally hailed from the Midwest. Although he kept his Spanish surname, Sanchez grew up in “an Anglo-Saxon world” but had little in common with the Anglo-American society. It was then that he began to perceive himself as the “other.”

Sanchez’s mother became seriously ill when he was a teenager, and he was sent to the St. Francis School for Boys in northern California. Most of the students were orphans or poor and were from Hispanic, Native American, and African American backgrounds. He then attended a community college in Sacramento Valley; at the same time he worked as a ranch hand in the High Sierra with Washo Indians and members of other tribes. His experiences at St. Francis and on the ranch enhanced his knowledge of American Indian culture and provided the material for Rabbit Boss.

Sanchez first began to work on Rabbit Boss when he was twenty-one, while attending San Francisco State University in the 1960’s. He was deeply involved in the antiwar movement, Congress for Racial Equality, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. After earning a B.A. in 1966 and an M.A. in 1967, he taught at the university and continued to work on the novel. After witnessing a violent protest where students were beaten, he left the country for Spain and there finished Rabbit Boss.

Rabbit Boss was published in 1973 after Sanchez returned from Spain. The novel chronicles the lives of four generations of Washo Indians, whose society is slowly decimated by the encroachment of whites on their ancestral lands. Although it begins in 1846,...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Growing up in a poor family, Thomas Sanchez was sent to a Catholic boarding school in Northern California after his mother became ill. There he developed his interest in Native American subjects, which informs his fiction. An outspoken advocate for human rights, Sanchez was a member of the Congress for Racial Equality, the United Farm Workers, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the 1960’s. Sanchez participated in the Sacramento Valley grape strikes and the Vietnam antiwar movement. As a radio correspondent in 1973, he reported on the American Indian Movement’s takeover of the Wounded Knee Reservation in South Dakota—a protest that prompted a Senate investigation into the conditions of Indian life.

In 1969, Sanchez left the United States to visit Spain, where he wrote his first novel. Rabbit Boss chronicles four generations of the Washo Indian tribe. The tribe’s leader, the Rabbit Boss, encounters the Donner Party, a group of white settlers who became snowbound in the mountains and resorted to cannibalism. A Washo legend that whites are cannibals originates from this 1846 encounter. The cannibalism overturns the civilized white man-savage Indian dichotomy. Cultures clash again in Sanchez’s next novel, Zoot Suit Murders, a mystery set in a Los Angeles barrio of the 1940’s. The story concerns the murder of two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in a rioting neighborhood where the local zoot-suiters are...

(The entire section is 402 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bonetti, Kay. “An Interview with Thomas Sanchez.” Missouri Review 14, no. 2 (1991): 76-95.

Kirkus Reviews. Review of King Bongo, by Thomas Sanchez. 71, no. 1 (March 15, 2003): 425. Finds the novel to be straightforward noir, “florid, not quite Chandler.”

Marovitz, Sanford E. “The Entropic World of the Washo: Fatality and Self-Deception in Rabbit Boss.” Western American Literature 19 (Fall, 1984). Gives a detailed analysis of the structure, themes, and characters of the novel, focusing on the clash between the Washo culture and the dominant white society.

Rieff, D. “The Affirmative Action Novel.” The New Republic 202, no. 14 (April 2, 1990). Review of Mile Zero.

Sanchez, Thomas. “An Interview with Thomas Sanchez.” Interview by Kay Bonetti. The Missouri Review 14, no. 2 (1991). Explores how Sanchez’s family background, education, and experience as a social activist have influenced the plots and characterizations of his novels.

Sanchez, Thomas. “The Visionary Imagination.” MELUS 3, no. 2 (1976). Sanchez discusses how his social and political commitments influence his writing, particularly in Rabbit Boss.