Rudolfo Anaya’s transcendent coming-of-age novel transports readers to the lyrical presence of New Mexico’s llano and luna, earth and sky.
Rudolfo Anaya’s 1972 novel “Bless Me, Ultima,” which tells a boy’s coming of age story in New Mexico after World War II, has been named in the top 100 Great American Reads, an eight-part series aired by the Public Broadcasting System.
About 7,200 American readers were asked: What is your favorite book and why? The series explored how readers are affected by the fictional worlds created by authors. The 100 different books speak to the diversity of the United States as well as to shared human experiences.
Anaya’s book tells the story of a Hispanic boy growing up in eastern New Mexico under the guidance of his mentor, the local settlement’s curandera, or traditional healer, who comes to live with his family. Yet the book had enough wide appeal across America to be ranked at No. 91 on the PBS survey.
In 2015 Anaya was presented with a National Endowment for the Humanities medal. The White House citation read: “For his pioneering stories of the American Southwest. His works of fiction and poetry celebrate the Chicano experience and reveal universal truths about the human condition.”
Anaya, an Albuquerque resident, said in his acceptance speech of the NEH Medal: “I’ve been thinking a lot about what this recognition means, and I’ve decided it’s not just about me…this award is about the people of New Mexico.”
Via email on November 1, Anaya said, "When I said the Humanities medal belongs to the people of New Mexico I meant it. This state with all its cultural diversity and landscape has formed me. I thank my parents and grandparents for the struggles they endured. I thank all the good people who have come into my life and helped me along the way. I especially thank my wife. I thank readers who have been so good to me. As the poet said, 'no man is an island.' We are all part of the mainland called New Mexico."
Laura Lynch, chair of the writing and speaking department at University of New Mexico-Taos, said, “Rudolfo Anaya’s transcendent coming-of-age novel transports readers to the lyrical presence of New Mexico’s llano and luna. “Ultima” weaves Hispanic, curandera and local Catholic folk traditions and deserves its place in our canon of great American literature.”
Born in Pastura, New Mexico, Anaya is the only native New Mexican author to make the Great American Reads list. He is a professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico in the department of literature. Here in Taos, he once served on the advisory board of SOMOS, the literary organization. In 2009, “Bless Me, Ultima” was the focus of a mass-reading event called the Taos Big Read and was made into a film in 2013, directed by Carl Franklin.
“‘Bless Me, Ultima’ helps young and old Taoseños/Taoseñas recognize themselves and the beauty of their traditions,” Lynch said. “This is a great honor for Mr. Anaya and all New Mexicans.”
Anaya said, "I was honored to be on the list. Thankful for the awards I have received. All this on the backs of people who have carried me forward."
Find the full reading list at: pbs.org/the-great-american-read.
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