Authors: Rudolfo A. Anaya

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

Mexican American novelist

October 30, 1937

Pastura, New Mexico


Rudolfo Alfonso Anaya was born in the small village of Pastura, New Mexico, in 1937 to Martin and Rafaelita (Mares) Anaya. His father was a laborer. Anaya’s inspiration to become a writer came at an early age when he listened to his family telling stories.

After graduating from the University of New Mexico in 1963, Anaya taught in the public schools for seven years. He earned an M.A. in English in 1968 and an M.A. in counseling in 1972. He became director of counseling at the University of Albuquerque from 1971 to 1973, leaving that position to teach in the Department of English at the University of New Mexico, where he remained until he resigned that position to devote all of his time to writing in 1993.

Anaya’s first novel, Bless Me, Ultima, published in 1972, is an autobiographical work, a Bildungsroman that depicts a formative period in the life of the main character, Antonio. The mysterious healer Ultima is at the heart of this novel, in which the seven-year-old boy Antonio is searching for a spiritual foundation and values that will enable him to better cope with a world racked by conflict, violence, and death. Disenchanted with a Catholicism that seems dogmatic and harsh, he learns from the aged Ultima, a curandera (healer), an alternative outlook on life that includes a love of nature, a belief in the supernatural, and the need to choose good over evil.

Anaya has revealed that the disenchantment with Catholicism that Antonio experiences was exactly what he experienced as a youth, and that he, too, was attracted to polytheistic religion as an alternative to the dogmatic Catholic religion in which he was raised. Through his protagonist Antonio, Anaya is pondering fundamental existential issues: the meaning of good and evil, one’s purpose in life, whether God exists, and the nature of the sacred. Anaya’s reputation is largely the result of the critical and popular acclaim for this first autobiographical novel.

After growing up in Pastura and later in Santa Rosa, Anaya and his family moved to Albuquerque in 1952, where they lived in the barrio Barelas, the setting for his second novel. Heart of Aztlán might be viewed as primarily a social protest novel. The novel focuses on the problems of a Chicano family that moves to the barrio of Barelas in Albuquerque.

Anaya’s subsequent novels continue his fascination with his personal New Mexican background and the mythic nature of his rich oral tradition. His own near-fatal accident and treatment for a spinal injury at Tingley Hospital in New Mexico provide the background for Tortuga. This book recounts the story of the adolescent protagonist’s recovery from a serious accident that results in his being encased in a body cast, somewhat like a turtle’s shell (tortuga is the Spanish word for turtle). Alburquerque revolves around the search of Abrán González, a mixed-blood hero of the barrio, for his biological father. In the course of the complicated plot, Abrán comes into contact with different social classes, and Alburquerque becomes symbolic of American society. In Zia Summer, Anaya chose the popular genre of the murder mystery to express his moral vision. In this novel, his hero is Sonny Baca, a private detective who is investigating the murder of his cousin. As in all of Anaya’s previous novels, Zia Summer presents the archetypal battle between good and evil. Anaya later brought the character of Sonny Baca back for three additional mysteries: Rio Grande Fall, Shaman Winter, and Jemez Spring.

As in his earlier novels, Anaya's allegory Randy Lopez Goes Home fuses the spiritual quest so prevalent in the epic and classical literature with specifically New Mexican imagery. The Sorrows of Young Alfonso echoes some of the plot elements of Tortuga, focusing as it does on a life-changing accident and subsequent disability; however, it goes on to describe how the protagonist not only comes to terms with his situation but makes a mark in his community.The Old Man's Love Story is an expression of Anaya's grief at the loss of his beloved wife, Patricia. The novel explores love, loss, remembrance, and religion through more than two dozen stories.

In his later years, Anaya has written a number of books for children, including picture books of Mexican legends and myths and a pair of young-adult novels about the mythical Chupacabra. He has also returned to the short-story form, poetry, and drama.

Anaya is not only a widely read author within the Mexican American community but also one of the few Chicano writers to enter the mainstream and be read by a large public. Bless Me, Ultima is considered a contemporary classic and is frequently taught in secondary schools and universities. Anaya is considered one of the founders of Chicano literature. His literary contributions have been recognized through the 1980 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, a 2001 National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a 2015 National Humanities Medal.

Author Works Long Fiction: Bless Me, Ultima, 1972 Heart of Aztlán, 1976 Tortuga, 1979 The Legend of La Llorona, 1984 Lord of the Dawn: The Legend of Quetzalcóatl, 1987 Albuquerque, 1992 Zia Summer, 1995 Jalamanta: A Message from the Desert, 1996 Rio Grande Fall, 1996 Shaman Winter, 1999 Jemez Spring, 2005 Randy Lopez Goes Home, 2011 The Old Man's Love Story, 2013 The Sorrows of Young Alfonso, 2016 Short Fiction: The Silence of the Llano, 1982 Serafina's Stories, 2004 The Man Who Could Fly, and Other Stories, 2006 Drama: The Season of La Llorona, pr. 1979 Who Killed Don José?, pr. 1987 Billy the Kid, pb. 1995 Billy the Kid, and Other Plays, 2011 Screenplay: Bilingualism: Promise for Tomorrow, 1976 Poetry: The Adventures of Juan Chicaspatas, 1985 (epic poem) Elegy on the Death of Cesar Chávez, 2000 (juvenile) Poems from the Rio Grande, 2015 Nonfiction: A Chicano in China, 1986 Conversations with Rudolfo Anaya, 1998 Children’s/Young Adult Literature: The Farolitos of Christmas: A New Mexico Christmas Story, 1987, 1995 (illustrated edition) Maya’s Children: The Story of La Llorona, 1997 Farolitos for Abuelo, 1998 My Land Sings: Stories from the Rio Grande, 1999 Roadrunner’s Dance, 2000 The Santero's Miracle: A Bilingual Story, 2004 Curse of the ChupaCabra, 2006 The First Tortilla: A Bilingual Story, 2007 ChupaCabra and the Roswell UFO, 2008 Juan and the Jackalope: A Children's Book in Verse, 2009 La Llorona: The Crying Woman, 2011 How Hollyhocks Came to New Mexico, 2011 How Chile Came to New Mexico, 2014 Edited Texts: Voices from the Rio Grande, 1976 Cuentos Chicanos: A Short Story Anthology, 1980 (with Antonio Márquez) A Ceremony of Brotherhood, 1680-1980, 1981 (with Simon Ortiz) Voces: An Anthology of Nuevo Mexicano Writers, 1987 Aztlán: Essays on the Chicano Homeland, 1989 Tierra: Contemporary Short Fiction of New Mexico, 1989 The Essays, 2009 Miscellaneous: The Anaya Reader, 1995 Bibliography Baeza, Abelardo. Man of Aztlan: A Biography of Rudolfo Anaya. Austin, Tex.: Eakin Press, 2001. Concise biography offers a fresh look at the man behind the classic novels. Includes bibliographical references. Clements, William. “The Way to Individuation in Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima.” Midwest Quarterly 23 (Winter, 1982). Applies the theories of Carl Jung to the novel. Dasenbrock, Reed. “Forms of Biculturalism in Southwestern Literature: The Work of Rudolfo Anaya and Leslie Marmon Silko.” Genre 21 (Fall, 1988). Focuses on the treatment of storytelling. Dick, Bruce, and Silvio Sirias, eds. Conversations with Rudolfo Anaya. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998. Collection of interviews with the author is designed to present Anaya’s point of view and philosophy. Appropriate for students and general readers. Includes index. Elias, Edward. “Tortuga: A Novel of Archetypal Structure.” The Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingüe 9 (January, 1982). Employs the archetypal approach to reveal Anaya’s art. Fernández Olmos, Margarite. Rudolfo A. Anaya: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. Provides biographical material and discusses Anaya’s literary influences as well as the themes, characters, and structures of individual works. González-Trujillo, César A., ed. Rudolfo A. Anaya: Focus on Criticism. La Jolla, Calif.: Lalo Press, 1990. Collection of critical articles by American and European scholars is presented by an eminent scholar and critic of Anaya. González-Trujillo, César A., and Phyllis S. Morgan. A Sense of Place: Rudolfo A. Anaya—An Annotated Bio-bibliography. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. Locates Anaya’s real and mythic geography. Includes maps by Ronald L. Stauber. Klein, Dianne. “Coming of Age in Novels by Rudolfo Anaya and Sandra Cisneros.” English Journal 81, no. 5 (September, 1992): 21-26. Presents an insightful comparative study of the bildungsroman as written by the two authors. Martínez, Julio, and Francisco A. Lomelí. Chicano Literature: A Readers’ Guide. New York: Greenwood Press, 1985. A good starting point for determining Anaya’s place in Chicano literature. Includes biographical essays on Anaya and other Chicano authors. Tatum, Charles M. Chicano Literature. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Provides an excellent perspective of the evolution of Chicano literature, especially in the 1970’s, when Anaya came into prominence. Includes summaries of his works. Taylor, Paul Beekman. “Chicano Secrecy in the Fiction of Rudolfo A. Anaya.” Journal of the Southwest 39, no. 2 (1997): 239-265. Discusses the interplay of English, Spanish, and American Indian cultural and linguistic influences on Chicano literature generally and Anaya's work in particular. Van Hecke, An. "Hybrid Voices in the Borderlands: Translation and Reconstruction of Mexican Images in Rudolfo Anaya." Confluencia, vol. 29, no. 2, Spring2014, pp. 61–69. Literary Reference Center Plus, Accessed 10 Apr. 2017. An analysis of Bless Me, Ultima, The Legend of La Llorona and Lord of the Dawn focusing on Anaya's use of Aztec mythology, Mexican legends, and spirituality. Vassallo, Paul, ed. The Magic of Words: Rudolfo A. Anaya and His Writings. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982. Collection of essays provides interesting readings and discussion of Anaya’s early fiction.

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