Bless Me, Ultima

Introduction

Bless Me, Ultima is a novel by Rudolfo Anaya in which his young protagonist, Antonio Márez y Luna, tells the story of his coming-of-age with the guidance of his curandera, mentor, and protector, Ultima. It has become the most widely read and critically acclaimed novel in the Chicano literary canon since its first publication in 1972.[1][2][3] Teachers across disciplines in middle schools, high schools and universities have adopted it as a way to multiculturalize their classes.[4][5] The novel reflects Chicano culture of the 1940s in rural New Mexico. Anaya’s use of Spanish, mystical depiction of the New Mexican landscape, use of cultural motifs such as La Llorona, and recounting of curandera folkways such as the gathering of medicinal herbs, gives readers a sense of the influence of indigenous cultural ways that are both authentic and distinct from the mainstream.

Bless Me, Ultima is Anaya's best known work and was awarded the prestigious Premio Quinto Sol. In 2008, it was one of 12 classic American novels [a] selected for The Big Read, a community-reading program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts,[7] and in 2009, it was the selected novel of the United States Academic Decathlon.

Bless Me, Ultima is the first in a trilogy followed by the publication of Heart of Aztlan (1976) and Tortuga (1979). With the publication of his novel, Alburquerque (1992), Newsweek proclaimed Anaya a front-runner in "what is better called not the new multicultural writing, but the new American writing."[2]

Because Bless Me, Ultima contains adult language, and because some of the content is violent and contains sexual references, it has been included in the list of most commonly challenged books in the U.S. in 2013.[8] Those characteristics notwithstanding it is also important because it was one of four novels published in the last third of the twentieth century which gained academic respect for Chicano literature as an important and nonderivative type of American literature.[b]


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