In 1952, Rudolfo’s family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Already a teenager, Rudolfo found the city exciting and adapted quickly. Barrio life in the Barelas section of the city swept him into the fold of the urban life of Chicano/as. In 1954, a swimming accident left Rudolfo temporarily paralyzed and gave him time and cause to consider many philosophical questions about life and human existence.
Rudolfo graduated from high school in 1956 and enrolled later that year at a local business school. Unfulfilled by the study of business, he enrolled at the University of New Mexico to study English. There, he discovered the importance of literature as a means for expressing ideas. During his student years, he was influenced not only by his teachers but also by the counterculture of the beatniks, especially by their anti-establishment poetry. In 1963, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English and began to teach at an elementary school in La Jolla, a neighborhood in southern Albuquerque. Anaya enjoyed teaching and went on to teach at secondary school levels. His interest in literature remained strong, however, and he eventually returned to the University of New Mexico for further study. In 1968, he received a Master of Arts degree in literature, and he returned later and earned another Master of Arts degree, this one in guidance and counseling. Between 1971 and 1973, he served as the Director of Counseling at the University of Albuquerque.
Writing Bless Me, Ultima
Although Bless Me, Ultima (1972) was Anaya’s first published novel and the one that gained him international acclaim as a writer, it was not his first novel. His previously written novels did not see print. During the mid-1960s, he wrote prodigiously, expressing his life and his experiences through poetry, short stories, and novels. For Anaya, writing became an expression of freedom. Seeing his people around him “in chains,” he revolted against that world. Breaking those chains was important; his characters would not be enslaved. He realized that if he could write about his experiences and his family, using the town where he grew up as a setting, he could focus on these early years and create a sense of being liberated. While doing so, he would also come to know himself better and better understand the forces that shaped him as a person yearning to write and yearning to be free. Using his childhood as the subject matter for a novel, Anaya put together a world filled with ideas and activity. Bless Me, Ultima, then, is a work that examines the various forces that shape the life of Antonio, a young Mexican-American boy who is a main character in the novel.
Bless Me, Ultima was begun as a story about Antonio, but it was Ultima who made the story click. Through Ultima, Anaya explored the subconscious world, that world below the surface of experience that contains his culture’s collective images, symbols, and dreams. In this subconscious world, Anaya examines the cultural forces that shaped the lives of Nuevo Mejicanos and Nuevo Mejicanas in the 1930s and 1940s. Through Ultima and the subconscious world, Anaya exposes the dark side of brujeria and raises questions about good, evil, and truth.
Initially, Anaya circulated the manuscript among the east coast publishers, but none showed an interest in it. Turning to Chicano publishers, he submitted it to Octavio I. Romano-V. and Herminio Rios, editors of Quinto Sol Publications, who were immediately interested in publishing the novel.
The Professorial Years
In 1974, two years after Bless Me, Ultima was published, Anaya accepted an invitation to teach creative writing at his alma mater, the University of New Mexico. Although he did not have a doctoral degree, Anaya was promoted to full professor of English, and, between 1990 and 1993, he served as the University’s Regents Professor. In 1993, he retired from teaching and from working directly within the university system in order to promote literary work by Chicano/as. In 1980, he read from his works at the White House. Over the years he has received many awards, including a Kellogg Fellowship and the prestigious University of New Mexico Regents Meritorious Service Medal in 1990. In retirement, he continues to promote Chicano/a literary scholarship and study and continues his own creative writing.