Authors: Ana Castillo

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist, short-story writer, and poet

Identity: Mexican American

Long Fiction:

The Mixquiahuala Letters, 1986

Sapogonia, 1990, revised 1994

So Far from God, 1993

Peel My Love Like an Onion, 1999

Short Fiction:

Ghost Talk, 1984

The Antihero, 1986

Subtitles, 1992

Loverboys: Stories, 1996


Otro Canto, 1977

The Invitation, 1979

Women Are Not Roses, 1984

My Father Was a Toltec, 1988

My Father Was a Toltec, and Selected Poems, 1973-1988, 1995

I Ask the Impossible, 2001


Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma, 1994

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

My Daughter, My Son, The Eagle, The Dove: An Aztec Chant, 2000


Esta Puente, Mi Espalda, 1988 (of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color; Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, editors)

Edited Texts:

The Sexuality of Latinas, 1993

Recent Chicano Poetry/Neueste Chicano-Lyrik, 1994

Goddess of the Americas/La Diosa de las Américas, 1996


One of the most prominent and versatile Chicana writers in the United States, Ana Castillo (kahs-TEE-yoh) is the author of poetry, novels, critical essays, translations, and edited texts. The Chicago-born Castillo first became known as a poet. Her writing reflects her involvement in Chicano and Latino political and cultural movements, as well as her strong commitment to feminist and environmental concerns. Among the many grants and awards she has received are the Carl Sandburg Literary Award in Fiction in 1993 for So Far from God, a Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award in 1987 for The Mixquiahuala Letters, and National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowships in 1990 and 1995. She has taught and lectured at several American and European universities.{$I[AN]9810002064}{$I[A]Castillo, Ana}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Castillo, Ana}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Castillo, Ana}{$I[geo]LATINO;Castillo, Ana}{$I[tim]1953;Castillo, Ana}

Castillo began publishing poetry while she was still a student at Northeastern Illinois University, from which she graduated with a degree in liberal arts in 1975. She first published in journals such as Revista Chicano-Riqueño, and her first collection, Otro Canto, appeared in 1977. This was followed by The Invitation in 1979, the same year that she received an M.A. in Latin and Caribbean studies from the University of Chicago.

Castillo’s early poems reveal her involvement in the El Movimiento (the Chicano/Latino civil rights movement), as well as her developing feminism and her poetic use of eroticism. The theme of social protest in Otro Canto appears in poems such as “A Christmas Carol: c. 1976,” spoken in the voice of a Chicana facing divorce and poverty amid memories of her childhood dreams. Other frequently noted poems from the volume include “Napa, California” and “1975.” The Invitation displays Castillo’s disillusionment with the persistent sexism of the male-dominated civil rights movement. Castillo’s response in The Invitation is to appropriate the erotic, rejecting taboos and clichés through a female speaker who explores and defines her sexuality in her own terms.

In 1984, a year after the birth of her son, Marcel Ramón Herrera, selections from Otro Canto and The Invitation were reprinted, along with new pieces, in Women Are Not Roses. Castillo’s rejection of antifeminist stereotypes appears in the volume’s title poem, as well as in “The Antihero,” in which Castillo explores the male need to construct and objectify the feminine. My Father Was a Toltec is noted for its treatment of Chicana identity in poems such as “Ixtacihuatl Died in Vain” and the political resonance of the utopian “In My Country.”

Castillo began writing her first novel, The Mixquiahuala Letters, at the age of twenty-three. Published ten years later, in 1986, The Mixquiahuala Letters is an epistolary novel that records the shifting relationship of two Latinas: Teresa, the author of the letters, and the artist Alicia. Their friendship becomes a record of betrayals through which Castillo explores internalized sexism and the negation of lesbian desire. Castillo’s main characters meet in Mexico; through their experiences in Mexico and the United States, Castillo probes race, class, and gender issues from a variety of perspectives. This strategy is enhanced by Castillo’s experimental provision of multiple sequences in which the letters can be read. Although the novel is dedicated to Julio Cortázar, Castillo’s strongest literary influence was the controversial Novas Cartas Portuguesas (1972) by the “three Marias” (Maria Barreno, Maria Horta, and Maria Costa), a work that inspired Castillo’s presentation of sexuality and her challenge of Catholicism.

In 1990, Castillo moved from California to Albuquerque, New Mexico. In that same year, she published Sapogonia, a novel set in the mythical country of Sapogonia, the home of all mestizos. The novel depicts the obsession of Máximo Madrigal with singer and activist Pastora Aké. Máximo’s need to dominate Pastora is presented both as the legacy of the conquest, with the European-identified Máximo playing out the role of conquistador, and as a function of the cultural position of women who, like Pastora, participate in their own objectification.

The 1993 publication of Castillo’s novel So Far from God, along with the republication of Sapogonia, marked her crossover from small presses into the mainstream publishing market. Set in New Mexico, So Far from God illustrates the expansion of Castillo’s political vision to issues such as environmentalism and presents a new focus on Latino spirituality and popular culture. Castillo’s main characters, Sofia and her daughters Esperanza, Fe, Caridad, and La Loca, enact a late twentieth century version of the martyrdom of Saint Sophia. However, while Sofia’s daughters fall victim to war, toxic chemicals, and violence, Sofia becomes a paragon of strength and survival. Although tragic at times, So Far from God, like many of Castillo’s works, also reveals her ironic sense of humor.

Many of Castillo’s political concerns are presented in her book of essays Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma. Castillo develops a Chicana feminism that addresses the history of the colonized woman, taking into account her sexuality and her spirituality, both of which must be freed from institutional oppression. In 1996, Castillo published the short-story collection Loverboys, which was centered on the theme of desire, both homosexual and heterosexual. The novel Peel My Love Like an Onion returned to the subject of flamenco dancing and music explored in Sapogonia and delved into the erotic lives of its main characters. Her varied works have firmly established Castillo as an influential Latina feminist writer and theorist.

BibliographyAlarcón, Norma. “The Sardonic Powers of the Erotic in the Work of Ana Castillo.” In Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings, edited by Asuncion Horno-Delgado et al. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. Covers Castillo’s early poems and The Mixquiahuala Letters.Curiel, Barbara Brinson. “Heteroglossia in Ana Castillo’s The Mixquiahuala Letters.” Discurso Literario 7, no. 1 (1990). Critical treatment of The Mixquiahuala Letters.Delgadillo, Theresa. “Forms of Chicana Feminist Resistance: Hybrid Spirituality in Ana Castillo’s So Far from God.” Modern Fiction Studies 44 (Winter, 1998): 888-889. Explores Castillo’s characterization of Chicanas as a group of passive people who become victims of oppression and a patriarchal church, and their eventual emergence from subjugation.Lanza, Carmela D. “Hearing the Voices: Women and Home and Ana Castillo’s So Far from God.” MELUS 23 (Spring, 1998): 65-79. Lanza’s essay compares Castillo’s book to Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868), identifying So Far from God as a “postmodern inversion” of Alcott’s novel. Both novels deal with the relationships between four sisters, but Castillo’s book is “infused with political resistance” where women of color have an opportunity to grow spiritually and politically.Pérez-Torres, Rafael. Movements in Chicano Poetry: Against Myths, Against Margins. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Discusses the construction of Chicana identity in Castillo’s poetry.Quintana, Alvina. “Ana Castillo’s The Mixquiahuala Letters: The Novelist as Ethnographer.” In Criticism in the Borderlands: Studies in Chicano Literature, Culture, and Ideology, edited by Héctor Calderón and José David Saldívar. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991. A critical treatment of The Mixquiahuala Letters.Walter, Roland. “The Cultural Politics of Dislocation and Relocation in the Novels of Ana Castillo.” MELUS 23 (Spring, 1998): 81-97. Walter addresses the politics of dislocation and relocation as a “key aspect of interacting social and cultural practices and ideological discourses” in Castillo’s novels.Yarbro-Bejarano, Yvonne. “The Multiple Subject in the Writing of Ana Castillo.” American Review 20, no. 1 (Spring, 1992). A general study that considers My Father Was a Toltec, The Mixquiahuala Letters, and Sapogonia.
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