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Rudolfo A(lfonso) Anaya Biography - Rudolfo A. Anaya Comments:

chicano mystery mexican history

(1995) I was born and raised in the eastern llano, plains country, of New Mexico. I spent my first 14 years in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, a town bisected by the Pecos River and Highway 66. My ancestors were the men and women of the Rio Grande Valley of the Albuquerque area who went east to settle the llano.

The llano was important for grazing sheep, and yet there were along the Pecos river little farming communities. My mother's family comes from such a small Hispanic village, Puerto de Luna. The most important elements of my childhood are the people of those villages and the wide open plains, and the landscape.

In my first novel, Bless Me, Ultima, I used the people and the environment of my childhood as elements of the story. Like my protagonist, Antonio, my first language was Spanish. I was shaped by the traditions and culture of the free-wheeling cow punchers and sheep herders of the llano, a lifestyle my father knew well, and was also initiated into the deeply religious, Catholic settled life of the farmers of Puerto de Luna, my mother's side of the family.

The oral tradition played an important role in my life. I learned about story from the cuentistas, the oral storytellers. It is a tradition one often loses when one moves into print, but its elements are strong and as valuable today as they have been historically. I want my literature to be accessible to my community, and I want it to reflect the strands of history which define us.

Because the Mexican American community has existed within the larger Anglo American society since the 19th century, and legally since 1848, our place in the history of this country is unique. We have a long history in the southwest, in the western United States. That history is generally not well known. Cultural identity is important to us as a way to keep the values and traditions of our forefathers intact.

In the 1960s the Mexican Americans created a social, political, and artistic movement known as the Chicano Movement. As a writer, I was an active participant in that movement. My second novel, Heart of Aztlán, deals with themes in the Chicano Movement. The novel explores a return to Mexican mythology. Chicano artists and writers like me returned to Mexican legends, mythology, and symbolism to create part of our Chicano expression.

When I was 16 I hurt my back and stayed a summer in a hospital. In Tortuga, I explored some of the consequences of that stay. The hero of the story is a young man who must find some redemption in suffering. The mythopoeic forces which had influenced my first two novels also are at work in the healing process which the protagonist must undergo.

Western writers reflect their landscape. We cannot escape the bond we have to our environment, the elements, especially water. As a Chicano writer I am part of a community which for the first time in our contemporary era has produced enough literary works to create a literary movement. Prior to the 1960s western literature was written about us, but seldom by us. Now the world has a truer insight into our world; the view is now from within as more and more Chicano and Chicana writers explore their reality.

Recently my work has taken a turn, and I have written my first murder mystery, Zia Summer. Although the form has certain requirements, often called the formula of a murder mystery, I have found the genre an interesting way to communicate my ideas. As an insider into Nuevo Mexicano (New Mexico) culture, I explore the cultural history of the region. I want my work to reflect the values of those ancestors who have lived in the Rio Grande Valley for so many centuries.

I am very interested in the spiritual values that are my inheritance, both from the Spanish/Mexican heritage and from the Native American side. As a mestizo, a person born from these two broad streams (or more correctly, from many inheritances), I want to create a synthesis, a worldview. I use the murder mystery genre as a tale of contemporary adventure, but the story within is laden with the cultural depth and richness that is our way of life. Ancestral values are the substratum of my work, as they have always been. I hope this new type of "adventure" fiction creates a mirror for our contemporary journey, a point of discussion of our world view.

This turn in my writing has been most enjoyable. The page-turning quality of the murder mystery allows me to have fun. Yes, fun. A writer should enjoy his work in spite of the cost. Each one of us suffers his own pain. But the new form also has a serious intent. It still allows me the deeper exploration that is part of my search for meaning.

An example of this continuing journey of knowledge is a novella called Jalamant, the Prophet, which I wrote in 1994. The continuing clarity of the worldview I was exploring in the murder mystery series became strong enough to require a coalescing in this philosophical work.

So nothing is lost to the writer. There is a pattern, and the communication to the reader continues in new forms.

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over 4 years ago

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