RIO RANCHO, NM (AP) – Rudolfo Anaya, a writer who helped launch the 1970s Chicano Literature Movement with his novel “Bless Me, Ultima,” a book celebrated by Latinos, died at age 82 .
Anaya’s niece, Belinda Henry, said the celebrated author died Sunday at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after a long illness.
Literary critics say that Anaya’s World War II novel about the relationship of a young Mexican-American boy with an older curandera, or healer, influenced a generation of Latino writers for his imagery and cultural references that were rare at the time of publication in 1972.
In a 2013 interview on C-SPAN, Anaya said the idea of the novel came after he had a vision of a woman at the doorway of a room where he was writing.
“She said, ‘You’ll never get it right unless you put me in it,” Anaya said. “I said,” Who are you? “She said, ‘Ultima’ … and there it was. ‘
The book’s publication coincided with the growing and militant Chicano movement that emphasized the cultural pride in assimilation. It also came when Mexican American students demanded more literature from Latino authors.
From activist circles to community centers, the novel was shared along with Tomas Rivera’s novel “… and the Earth Didn’t Devour Him” and later the poetry of Lorna Dee Cervantes.
“The first time I picked up ‘Bless Me, Ultima’ I was completely transported,” says novelist and poet Rigoberto Gonzalez, who was accompanied by Anaya. “He was somehow able to capture the background of our community and make us proud.”
Anaya is said to write a number of novels, including a mystery series starring Mexican-American detective Sonny Baca.
Anaya used his notoriety to start a creative writing program at the University of New Mexico and opened a retreat in Jemez Spring, New Mexico, for aspiring Latino writers.
Despite the popularity of “Bless Me, Ultima” on college campuses over the years, the novel was banned in some Arizona schools after a campaign by some conservatives who said the book promoted the overthrow of the federal government. Latino literary critics called those claims outrageous and launched a counter campaign to bring the work of Anaya and others from Latino authors to Arizona for community libraries near schools where the book was banned.
Anaya hosted a group of book smugglers led by Houston, Texas, novelist Tony Diaz at his Albuquerque home in 2012. He donated some of his own books and gave blessings to bus activists.
A feature film was made of the novel in 2013. The National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque announced in 2016 that it was making “Bless Me, Ultima” an opera.
Born in the small central town of Pastura in New Mexico, Anaya was born into a Spanish family with deep roots in a region that was once colonized by Spain. He was one of the seven siblings and the only man in his family to attend primary school. Years later, he would say that the Spanish-speaking oral narrators of his childhood remained an influence in his adult writing.
Anaya graduated from Albuquerque High School and later dropped out of college to become an accountant after enrolling in a liberal arts program at the University of New Mexico. During a master’s degree, he met and married Patricia Lawless, a counselor from Lyons, Indiana.
“I already had a few versions of ‘Bless Me, Ultima,'” Anaya said in an interview with the Albuquerque Journal in 2010. “And again she just saw that there was something of literary significance and encouraged me to continue, to keep writing. “
Lawless died in 2010.
In September 2016, Anaya received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama. Vulnerable and in poor health, Anaya agreed to make the last-minute trip to Washington and accepted his medal in a wheelchair.
New Mexico government Michelle Lujan Grisham called Anaya one of the state’s greatest artists and a trailblazing figure in literature.
“Through his indelible stories, Rudolfo Anaya, perhaps better than any other author, really captured what it means to be a new Mexican, what it means to be born here, grow up here, and live here.” she said in a statement.
Associated Press writer Russell Contreras is a member of the AP team for racing and ethnicity. Follow Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras
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