Rudolfo Anaya, New Mexico’s premier author of Chicano literature, died on Sunday, June 28th. Anaya was best known for his epic coming-of-age novel, Bless Me, Ultima. Since he wrote the book in 1972 it has sold over two million copies. In 2012, forty years after the book’s premier, it was made into a movie. Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima has become the most widely read and critically acclaimed novel in the canon of Chicano literature. Anaya was the author of more than twenty books and six plays. He taught creative writing at the University of New Mexico for nineteen years. At the time of his death he was a Professor Emeritus at UNM. In 2016 Anaya was the recipient of both the National Humanities medal and the National Medal of Arts.
Rudolfo Anaya was born on October 30, 1937 in Pastura, N.M. just south Santa Rosa. He was the third youngest of ten children born to Martin Anaya and Rafaelita Mares. His father was a rancher and his mother was a homemaker. Anaya’s formative years were filled with the sounds and sights of the llano. The birds, sheep, cattle and cowboys of Guadalupe County eventually made their way into the narrative of his books. While his father worked as a ranch hand, his mother tended to the large family with cooking and cleaning. During the sandstorms that frequented the llano Rudolfo remembered his mother tearing up bed sheets to use to fill the cracks of the windows and doors to keep the dust out. It was these early years of his childhood that served as the backdrop to Anaya’s epic novel, Bless Me, Ultima.
I met Rudy in the mid 1990s when I was publishing La Herencia. Back then he was teaching creative writing at UNM while writing his books. He and his late wife Patricia were very active in promoting two scholarship programs. They spearheaded the Premio Aztlan scholarship. Each year an aspiring Chicano or Chicana writer received the award for their first book. The couple set up another scholarship for high school students in Santa Rosa who were pursuing a degree in nursing. They both felt that it was important to provide the financial resources needed to pursue an education. In my own small way I was able to aid in the couple’s efforts by promoting the recipients of both scholarships in my magazine.
A Legacy Endures
The lights have dimmed in New Mexico with the passing of Rudolfo Anaya. But there is comfort in knowing that his books will live on to inspire future generations.