Bless Me, Ultima was first published in 1972, but has had it's share of controversy. At the center of the story the conflict with Ultima, a curandera (a healer or shaman), who is declared a witch by those who don't understand her long traditions, was labeled as "profane" and "violent" and even banned in some school districts with a large percentage of Chicano students. (The story hedges into some somewhat paranormal or "magical realism" elements, as well.)
The story made me a huge fan of Mr. Anaya. I seldom read outside the SFR genre, but Bless Me, Ultima held my fascination in the same way that The Milago Beanfield War did as a cinematic milestone in historic Chicano culture vs. modern progress.
If you'd like to get a better sense of the man and his work, here's a short 2+ minute video titled Meet Rudulfo Anaya produced by Open Road Integrated Media.
Over the years, Mr. Anaya had won two Governor’s Public Service Awards from New Mexico, a Kellogg Foundation Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts literature fellowships, and the NEA National Medal of Arts Lifetime Honor in 2001 as noted by the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition,President Barack Obama awarded the 2015 National Humanities Medal to Anaya at the White House.
In Albuquerque, Anaya’s influence is obvious. A library and an elementary school are named after him, and October 30th is designated as the ‘Rudolfo Anaya I Love to Read Day’ to promote literacy awareness throughout our state.
“Who would have known a vato from Barelas would have made the wall of fame,” said Rudolfo Anaya about himself in 2014, poking fun at his success as he was being inducted into Albuquerque’s wall of fame. (Vato loosely translates to "dude" or "homeboy.")
Rudolfo Anaya was born in Pastura, New Mexico, and raised in Santa Rosa. His father was a vaquero and his mother’s family were farmers. Anaya went to Albuquerque High School and graduated from the University of New Mexico earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, later becoming part of the UNM English faculty.
“I think it was natural to write about the people, the place, the culture, the traditions and that’s where I’ve stayed basically,” Anaya said in a 2014 interview. “This is what I write. I write New Mexico.”
Bless Me, Ultima was made into a feature film that debuted on my birthday in 2013 and Albuquerque’s National Hispanic Cultural Center plans to make his novel into an opera. Here's the trailer for the movie:
Though I didn't grow up in New Mexico, I fell in love with the state at first sight, and later envisioned an epic fictional journey through the New Mexican historical landscape via a novel. My way of honoring the state I long ago adopted as my home and a way to tell a tale of its dynamic history that very few know about.
If I ever get my enormous saga to the point of being published, Rudolfo Anaya will definitely be included in my acknowledgements.
Hope you enjoyed your 4th of July weekend. Have a great coming week.
Sources for this blog:
KRQE News: https://www.krqe.com/news/albuquerque-metro/acclaimed-new-mexico-author-rudolfo-anaya-dies-at-age-82
The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/03/books/rudolfo-anaya-dead.html