By Corina Martinez Chaudhry
The Latino Author
This week we are grateful and pleased to present you an interview with the critically renowned author Rudolfo Anaya. Mr. Anaya provides us with a heartfelt perspective on what it took to write the inspiring and classical novel, “Bless Me, Ultima,” which is sure to go into the realms of great literary writing for all time.
In addition, he provides us with some candid insight into the overall literary world. Thank you Mr. Anaya for doing this interview with The Latino Author. We are extremely honored.
Can you tell us about where you grew up and a little bit about that experience? What would you like your readers to know about your background, your education, your tenure as a teacher at a High School and University level?
I grew up in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, a small town in the east-central part of the state. The Pecos River runs through the town. The river plays an important role in my childhood. In the novel “Bless Me, Ultima,” the river and surrounding lakes become the home of the Golden Carp, a myth I develop. I fished and played at the river. Highway 66, before it became Interstate 40, ran through town. Both the iconic highway and the river were part of my childhood.
I was born in 1937. World War II was an important part of my growing up years. Most of this material is portrayed in the novel. The town is at the edge of the llano, the beginnings of the plains that spread into Texas and beyond. The landscape of the river and llano influenced the lives and livelihood of the people. I wouldn’t trade that childhood experience for anything.
The town has dedicated a section of Park Lake in Santa Rosa, NM, to the novel “Bless Me, Ultima” With a handsome bronze statue of yours truly. It’s worth a visit.
What moved you towards writing? Was there a specific event or timeframe that you can equate this to?
I always loved to write. By this I mean that in grades six through eight I loved to write and illustrate book reports. My love of writing came through my love of literature. High school was boring. In 1958, I enrolled at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. What I was reading in English Literature classes sparked not only my imagination but also a desire to write. I wrote poetry then quickly moved to novels.
Is there anything unique about your writing work space and is this space filled with things that motivate or inspire you to write?
At first any desk will do. But the area at home where I wrote became a sacred space. If my characters come to visit me, that is, activate my imagination, then surely something in the realm of the sacred is taking place. Writing is reaching into unexplored worlds, a creation of a new world, and as such writing partakes in the highest order of creativity.
When you begin a book, do you usually begin with a character or a plot? Tell us a little bit about the writing process for you.
My books always begin with a character “visiting” me. The character appears full blown and he or she wants its story told. My first major character, Ultima, appeared in my small writing room one night when I was writing the first drafts of “Bless Me, Ultima.” It was really a bedroom in our home which was converted to my writing room. She told me to put her in the story. That’s when the novel took off disclosing her power and presence. Ultima as a guide allowed me to delve deeper into my subconscious.
Throughout your lifetime, you have published many literary works. I believe there are close to 40 if not more. These include short stories, novels, children’s books, and even poetry. Does your approach differ with each of these mediums and which of these come easier (if any) to you?
Each novel or story that I write demands its own approach in content and style. The same is true with poetry I have written. Stories and poems are children of the writer, so this implies each literary work has an energy of its own. This energy is the soul of the story. My creative imagination is my soul and I pass this soul-energy on the work at hand. But keep in mind, as I said before, each work also comes with its own energy. Poem, or novel, or children’s illustrated story each partakes in the gift of creativity.
When I began writing and got to a point where I felt I had command of the language and that I was truly in touch with my creative imagination (soul and archetypal memory), I told myself that I would write in as many genres as I could. Thank God my wish was granted. I learned not only to listen to stories in the wind, but also to capture them, that is, to allow my imagination to be open to all possibilities. The minute the character or germ of a story arrives, I start writing. I have written every day since the beginning of time.
Of all your publications, do you have a favorite?
I don’t have a favorite literary work. As I said, these stories are my children. The saddest poem that even revisions cannot make whole is still a child of the writer. I have published children’s stories that when I read them years later I still revise. Got to love all the little suckers we create, even if they come slightly deformed with six toes or heart value problems.
Of course “Bless Me, Ultima” became the classic as some say. I believe every story or poem is a classic. Not everyone gets to be president, but I keep telling each story with the hope that maybe someday someone will read it, and you will change someone’s life for the better. It doesn’t matter that you don’t rhyme or that the metaphors are mixed – you are a creation of my soul. Stand up and go for it!
A dear friend once told me I was blessed to have produced a best seller like “Bless Me, Ultima” as my first novel. “It freed you to write whatever you want to write in the future,” he said. He was right! There are ups and downs as we go writing our life’s journey. All writers know this. Free yourself!
I often point readers to my novel “Tortuga” because I’m told by readers that it’s one of those that touches the heart. All our works should touch the reader’s heart. And most recently I hit a great stride in “Randy Lopez Goes Home,” an allegory ahead of its time. Born too soon, as are some children. But they are old souls and are delighted to be in someone’s hands even if they don’t make the best seller list. I just published “The Old Man’s Love Story.” You will cry and might agonize over that one, but it won’t reach “Bless Me, Ultima” in sales. Who cares. It’s there! A child born of love.
You are known for many wonderful books; however, “Bless Me Ultima” is one that was just recently made into a movie. Do you believe the movie captured the essence of the story of your book?
Carl Franklin, writer and director of the “Bless Me, Ultima” movie, did an excellent job of capturing the essence of the novel. You can’t put everything in a novel into a movie. Franklin chose two major themes as a narrative plot: showing the unity of the family and Antonio’s growing awareness of his spiritual life. Viewers I know are extremely pleased with the movie. People love it and that’s what I, and everybody involved with the movie, wanted.
Getting published and making the Best Seller’s Lists can be a very difficult process for many authors. For Latinos it may be even so. What do you equate this to? Do you think it’s the mindset of the publishing industry in general that needs to change, or do you believe that these changes will come about more naturally as Latinos become a larger force in the world?
Best Seller’s List for me means my gente is reading my work. When people respond to my work I feel gratified. This country isn’t ready to place Latino works on the Best Sellers List. We hardly get reviews in mainstream media. And many of us are still being published by small presses or university presses.
I’m content with my very fortunate career as a writer, but I wish the works of the younger Latino/a writers get better coverage and thus finally make a dent in the consciousness of the larger society.
Name a book in general that has most influenced your life — and why?
I was influenced by lots and lots of books. I can’t pick one out of all the books I did and continue to read. Reading is what led me to write. My university studies were in the Department of English Literature. Writing in English came naturally.
You traveled extensively to China (wrote a travel journal – “A Chicano in China”) and also to Latin America. Is there a particular thing that drew or still draws you to these particular locations?
My wife Patricia and I loved to travel. I was invited to conferences here and abroad and we went. We met wonderful friends wherever we went. Mexico remained our favorite country. In l974 we met Ana Rosinski in Mexico City. We visited her there and in Cuernavaca over the years. Ana became like a mother to me. Later the beach at Mazatlan became our vacation place. I mention this in my recent novel, “The Old Man’s Love Story.” I encourage everyone to travel if at all possible. Get a loan and take off! Don’t wait until you’re old.
In the business world of writing, what has been some of the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve had to face? Any lessons learned?
In the 1960s and 1970s when Chicanos were writing in that blossoming we called el Movimiento Chicano, it was really difficult to find publishers. I sent my manuscript of “Bless Me, Ultima” all over until a small press, Quinto Solo, picked it up.
Without the small independent presses few of us would have gotten published. In many respects it’s still like that. Check out the great Arte Publico catalog, UNM and OU Press, editors like Gary Keller and Juan Tejeda, and many others who through hard work still publish our works. Check out Premio Aztlan, which my wife and I have funded for twenty years. All these people have returned their commitment to the Latino/Hispano community.
With regard to your writing, what legacy do you want to leave behind? What is it that you want your readers to take away as they hear the name “Rudolfo Anaya – The Author?”
My legacy: I hope I did kind deeds…
Are there any new books on the short horizon? What projects are you currently working on that you would like to share with your readers?
I am writing a novel. It’s too early to describe it, besides I never discuss a work in progress. I might mention a few things about the work to friends and family, but I never turn it loose until it’s ready for an editor to look at it. And after that I’m still revising. I revise a hundred times or more. A good book is hard-earned.