Thursday, September 19

Farmington Public Library Multipurpose Room


The Author

Rudolfo Anaya was born in 1937 in the small village of Pastura, near Santa Rosa, New Mexico, to a farmgirl mother and a cowboy father. The curandera who presided at his birth set out tools of both family trades near the newborn-only to see him reach for a paper and pencil instead. At sixteen, while roughhousing around an irrigation channel with friends, Anaya dove in and hit the bottom. Years of arduous rehabilitation and bedridden reading would pass before he regained a full movement in his neck.

Anaya discovered a different kind of movement during his years at the University of New Mexico. El Movimiento, the Chicano Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, encouraged Anaya's dream of writing books that would explore his cultural heritage. After more than seven years of writing and rewriting his novel, Bless Me, Ultima was published in 1972. The novel has become part of high school English and university Chicano literature classes. Writer Tony Hillerman has praised Anaya as the "godfather and guru of Chicano literature."

In 1974, two years after Bless Me, Ultima was published, Anaya accepted an invitation to teach creative writing at his alma mater, the University of New Mexico. Although he did not have a doctoral degree, Anaya was promoted to full professor of English, and, between 1990 and 1993, he served as the University's Regents Professor. In 1993, he retired from teaching and from working directly within the university system in order to promote literary work by Chicano/as. In 1980, he read from his works at the White House. Over the years he has received many awards, including a Kellogg Fellowship and the prestigious University of New Mexico Regents Meritorious Service Medal in 1990 as well as the National Media of Arts award. In retirement, he continues to promote Chicano/a literary scholarship and study and continues his own creative writing.

Plot Summary

The summer before Antonio Juan Márez y Luna turns seven years old, an old woman comes to live with his family in Guadalupe, New Mexico. This woman, called La Grande or Ultima, is a curandera, a traditional healer feared by many and mysterious to all. With her knowledge of medicinal plants and adoration for the llano (open plains), she uses her magic to aid the community.

Bless Me, Ultima is a coming-of-age novel about a young boy's loss of innocence and approach to maturity. But it also deals with tradition and education, faith and doubt, and good and evil. And if Antonio doesn't find an absolute truth in his search, he still comes to believe with his father that "sometimes it takes a lifetime to acquire understanding, because in the end understanding simply means having a sympathy for people."

Bless Me, Ultima has been challenged, removed, and banned throughout the United States for its use of violence, profanity and anti-Catholic views.