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A Tribute to Community and Chicano Writer Rudolfo Anaya

(The following is a guest post by Suzanne Schadl, Chief of the Hispanic Division, and her daughters Camille and Erika Romero, who were born in Taos and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico.)

“I’ve been thinking a lot about what this recognition means, and I’ve decided it’s not just about me, it’s about New Mexico. We may be one of the poorest states in the union but we have a wealth of beauty and culture. This award is about the people of New Mexico.”

Rudolfo Anaya, receiving the National Humanities Medal.

It seems fitting to recognize Rudolfo Anaya (1937-2020) during National Hispanic Heritage Month. This New Mexico storyteller helped open doors for others in his state, where nearly half the population is Hispanic or Latino. Anaya’s voice resonates far beyond New Mexico and you can find it in the PALABRA Archive at the Library of Congress.

Rudolfo Anaya, photo provided for the PALABRA Archive by the author’s niece Belinda Henry (2020).

Lee, R. (1940) People at the fiesta, Taos, New Mexico. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Most New Mexico towns hold annual festivals/fiestas in their public squares. Residents gather for parades, live music, dance, food, and socialization. This image depicts the storefront on Camino de la Placita in Taos, NM where the authors of this post gather annually with their extended family to watch the Fiestas parade.

Mitchell S.A (1867) Arizona and New Mexico. Retrieved from the Library of Congress

Throughout his celebrated career, Anaya collaborated with many authors, translators, and illustrators to publish anthologies and children’s books that celebrate New Mexico and Chicano Culture. His best-known novel, “Bless Me, Ultima” (1972), remains one of the highest selling works of Chicano literature, with an acclaimed adaptation to film in 2013. This multi-cultural bildungsroman created a space in the US imagination for the llano (open plains) of New Mexico, the healing wisdom of blended Indigenous and Catholic traditions, and Nuevomexicano vocabulary. It also secured an important honor within the Chicano Movement as a Quinto Sol recipient. The first national independent Chicano publishing house, Quinto Sol, published works that other publishing houses overlooked. “Bless Me, Ultima” (1972) was their second such publication.

The semi-autobiographical story is set in post WWII, Guadalupe, New Mexico. Its protagonist, Antonio, learns to navigate difficult life changes in his community with guidance from Ultima, la Grande, who resides with his family. In his own words, Anaya describes Ultima as “… a healer in the tradition of our native New Mexico healers. She is a repository of Spanish, Mexican and Native American teachings. Her role is to ‘open Antonio’s eyes’ so he can see the beauty of the landscape and understand the spiritual roots of his culture.”

As a public-school teacher in Albuquerque (1963-68) and English professor at the University of New Mexico (1974-93), Anaya – like Ultima – led pupils to their own paths. His writing retreat in Jemez Springs also offered writers a place for quiet reflection. In 2013, public nominations secured “Bless Me, Ultima” a position among the “100 Books That Shaped America.” Two years later President Obama awarded Anaya the National Humanities Medal, noting that the author extended “a love of literature to new generations.”

Anaya Children’s Display (2020), Hispanic Reading Room.

Anaya’s passing on June 28, 2020 encourages reflection on his legacy as a trailblazing Chicano in US publishing. Anaya used the triumph of “Bless Me, Ultima,” as he did the honor of the National Humanities Medal, to share his platform and influence. Here are 20 storytellers or illustrators featured in published works that Anaya wrote or edited. Put them on your list for further research:  Ron Arias, Maria Baca, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Nash Candelaria, Ana Castillo, Denise Chávez, Amy Cordova, David Diaz, Lionel G. García, Cecilio Garcia-Camarillo, Edward Gonzales, Juan Felipe Herrera, E.A. Mares, Nicolás Otero, Robert L. Perea, Leroy V. Quintana, Leo Romero, Gustavo Sainz, Jesús Salvador Treviño, and Tino Villanueva.

Listen to Rudolfo Anaya in the PALABRA Archive: link forthcoming in HHM new digital audio release

You might also enjoy hearing these Latino authors in the PALABRA Archive.

Further Reading:

Anaya, R. (1972). “Bless me, Ultima.” Quinto sol.

Anaya, R. A., & Márquez, A. (Eds.). (1984). “Cuentos Chicanos: A short anthology.” UNM Press.

Anaya, R. A. (Ed.). (1987). “Voces: an anthology of Nuevo Mexicano writers.” El Norte Publications.

Anaya, R. (1995). “The farolitos of Christmas.” Hyperion.

Anaya, R. A., & Baca, M. (1997). “Maya’s Children: The Story of La Llorona.” Disney.

Anaya, R. (2000). “Roadrunner’s dance.” Hyperion.

Anaya, R. (2011). “La llorona: The crying woman.” UNM Press.

Anaya, R. (2014) “How chile came to New Mexico = Comó llegó el chile a Nuevo México.” Rio Grande Books.

External Link: The Rudolfo Anaya Digital Archive

In Memoriam: Abdul Samed Bemath: A Committed Librarian

This post is a personal reflection on a professional friendship that African Section librarian Eve M. Ferguson had with renowned bibliographer, Abdul Samed Bemath, who recently passed away after producing a third bibliography of the legendary African historian, the late Ali Al’Amin Mazrui, who was memorialized at the Library of Congress in December 2014. Eve Ferguson worked with Bemath to create a chapter in a book of tributes, A Giant Tree Has Fallen: Tributes to Ali Al’Amin Mazrui. Abdul Samed Bemath died in South Africa on July 31, 2020.