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Thursday, July 11, 2013

July 11, 2013: Southwest Stories: Rudolfo Anaya

[This week, a series on some of the many AmericanStudies stories that can be found in the Southwest—in addition to those included, for example, in this prior series on Mexican American histories. Leading up to a special post on folk heroes!]
On the Southwestern writer whose debut novel redefined American literature—and was just the beginning.
One of the questions that have most consistently driven my work on this blog has been why we remember the things we do, why we forget others, and, perhaps most especially, how we can challenge those narratives and add much more into our collective memories and conversations. While I have certainly often focused on darker and more difficult such additions, I hope that the scales have been balanced by the many inspiring and compelling moments, figures, and works I have likewise sought to highlight (many of them, of course, arising directly out of the darker histories). Mary Hunter Austin, the focus of Monday’s post, is one exemplary Southwestern such figure; New Mexico-born Mexican American novelist and professor Rudolfo Anaya is most definitely another.
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Anaya’s debut novel, Bless Me, Ultima (1972) fundamentally shifted the American literary and cultural landscape (and continues to!). Anaya’s book was far from the first Chicano American text, far from the first to include both Spanish and English, far from the first to focus on Mexican American lives in the Southwest—those honors go to authors from a century prior to Anaya’s debut, writers such as Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton and Maria Cristina Mena. But like contemporary Native American authors N. Scott Momaday and Leslie Marmon Silko, Anaya brought his literary and cultural heritage to a new prominence and visibility, helping originate a late 20th century Chicano literary boom that would come to include Gloria Anzaldúa, Sandra Cisneros, and many more. Moreover, like Cisneros’ House on Mango Street, Anaya’s novel deals both with local and cultural contexts and with universal experiences and themes, making it as accessible as it is challenging, as engaging as it is controversial. It’s just a great American novel, and deserves a much wider readership.
But it’s not like Anaya has just sat around waiting for that response. In the four decades since he published Ultima, he has published more than a dozen other works of fiction, ten collections of writing for children, numerous anthologies and collections (of his own work and other Chicano American writing), and five plays, all while teaching at the University of New Mexico and serving as a mentor for many younger writers. One of those children’s works, My Land Sings: Stories from the Rio Grande (1999), perfectly illustrates just how much Anaya’s work has always been and remains connected to, influenced by, and contributing to the culture and identity of the American Southwest. He has blessed the region many times over, and we’re all blessed to have his voice and works to help embody and carry forward all that the Southwest is and means.
Last Southwest story tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Southwest stories or histories you’d highlight?

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