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Ana Castillo: 1953—: Novelist, Poet, and Essayist - Became Disillusioned With Art Studies

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Instead, Castillo enrolled in junior college and then at Northern Illinois University, scrambling to finance her classes through a combination of grants and various jobs. At first she studied art, but became discouraged in courses that did little to encourage her unique perspective. She had more luck with poetry, giving a reading of her own poems when she was 20 and seeing her first poems published before she graduated from Northern Illinois in 1975. Nevertheless, she went on for a Master's degree at the University of Chicago not in fine arts, but in Latin American studies. After her initial negative experiences as an art student, Castillo has always been leery of writing classes and fiction workshops.

Already as an undergraduate, Castillo had adopted a radical political outlook and had come to a strong consciousness of her own identity as a subject of dual oppression—as a woman and as a Mexican American. In an essay in her book Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma, Castillo argued that she has "much more in common with an Algerian woman" than with a Mexican man. Now she began to read voraciously, encountering the works of the Latin American "magical realist" school and of African American female writers such as Toni Morrison (herself influenced by magical realism). She published a "chap-book," a small, self-published volume of poetry called Otro Canto, in 1977, and wrote and published several other books of poetry. One of them, The Invitation (1981) was published with the help of a grant from the Playboy Foundation.

At a Glance . . .

Born June 15, 1953, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Raymond and Rachel Rocha Castillo; children: Marcel Ramon Herrera. Education: Northern Illinois University, B.A., 1975; University of Chicago, M.A., 1979; University of Bremen (Germany), Ph.D., 1991.


Career: Instructor in Ethnic Studies, Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa, CA, 1975; writer-in-residence, Illinois Arts Council, 1977; history lecturer, Northwestern University,1980-81; Urban Gateways of Chicago, poet-in-residence, 1980-81; instructor in women's studies, San Francisco State University, 1986-87; G California State University at Chico, visiting professor of creative writing and fiction, 1988-89; instructor, Department of English, University of New Mexico, 1989, 1991-92; professor of creative writing, Mount Holyoke College, 1994; published story "Juan in a Million" in USA Today, 1997.


Selected awards: American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1986, for The Mixquiahuala Letters; California Arts Council fellowship for fiction, 1989; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship for poetry, 1990, 1995.


Addresses: Home—Chicago, IL; Agent—c/o Susan Bergholz, 17 W. 10th St. #5, New York, NY 10011.




Castillo began her first novel, The Mixquiahuala Letters, when she was 23, and it was finally published in 1986. The novel is cast in the form of a series of letters between two Latina friends: Teresa, a poet in California, and Alicia, an artist in New York City. Like the 1963 novel Hopscotch by the Argentine writer Julio Cortázar, Castillo's novel requires the reader to choose between one of several possible orderings of the material. Castillo arrived at the idea independently, but dedicated the novel to Cortázar in tribute. The Mixquiahuala Letters was published by the small Bilingual Review Press in Tempe, Arizona.

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