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Rudolfo Anaya: Books & Biography

Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

Rudolfo Anaya, best known for his book ''Bless Me, Ultima,'' which is read in classrooms across the nation, is one of the leading authors of Chicano literature. Read on for a short summary of his life and of some of his most well-known books!

Biography and Books

Rudolfo Anaya was born in New Mexico in 1937. He grew up as a child in a small farm town named Pastura until attending the University of New Mexico. At the time that Anaya was in college, the Chicano Civil Rights Movement was in full swing in the United States, and Anaya was influenced by this movement greatly. The Chicano Civil Rights Movement arose as part of the greater civil rights movements led by men such as Martin Luther King Jr. Mexican-Americans such as Anaya began to speak out about racism and societal ills relevant to their communities. They also focused on celebrating their own cultural heritages. This period of time informed Anaya's writing throughout his career, and Anaya himself became a leader of the Chicano literature movement, as he wrote books specifically about the Latino experience in America.

Anaya's educational career included degrees for literature and counseling, but soon after school, he set himself upon the career path of a writer (though he has also taught in public schools). His work was first published in the 1970s, beginning with his most famous work, Bless Me, Ultima.

Bless Me, Ultima (and a New Mexico trilogy)

Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima is a mysterious and mystical story about a six year old boy named Antonio and his adult protector and mentor Ultima, a woman who is believed to be a witch by many of the people who live in their New Mexico town. Anaya was inspired to write the novel after having a vision where he saw an older woman dressed in black in his room during a late-night writing session; that vision inspired the character of Ultima.

The book follows Antonio as he begins to explore and understand the world around him. In the book, young Antonio starts to form an identity as a person of Mexican heritage living in the United States. Antonio is drawn to both his mother, who is religious and grounded at home, and his father, who is adventurous and, to young Antonio's mind, unpredictable and rough at times. Throughout the book, Ultima helps Antonio figure out how to take elements of both of his parents' beliefs and lifestyles to make up a new identity that fits him perfectly.

Bless Me, Ultima is a mainstay of high school and college literature courses because it is one of the best examples of Chicano Literature, and it discusses universal themes that people from all cultures experience, such as building one's identity and figuring out which culture fits them the best.

Bless Me, Ultima was followed by two more books, Heart of Aztlan and Tortuga, and in each, Anaya drew on his experiences as a Latino person living in New Mexico. Together, they form a loose trilogy of books about New Mexican culture and an exploration of Anaya's own experiences growing up in New Mexico. Much as Ultima serves as a mysterious spiritual and cultural guide for Antonio in Bless Me, Ultima, a blind poet named Crispin helps the Chavez family cope with life in the big city of Albuquerque in Heart of Aztlan. As in Ultima, the story is about how to find ones identity by mixing cultures -- in this case, the small-town farming culture or rural New Mexico with the industrial city culture of Albuquerque. Tortuga is about a young disabled boy in New Mexico who must integrate himself into a society that treats him poorly because of his disabilities. Again, Anaya creates a main character who questions his own identity and tries to find a way to fit into his surroundings.

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