ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – One of the founders of the Chicano literature movement, and a fellow New Mexican, Rudolfo Anaya, died on Sunday, June 28. The author is best known for his 1972 coming-of-age book, “Bless Me, Ultima.” Anaya’s work is taught all across the country and friends of the famous writer said he leaves behind a powerful legacy.
“Who would have known a vato from Barelas would have made the wall of fame,” said Rudolfo Anaya in 2014. That’s Anaya poking fun at his success when he was inducted into Albuquerque’s wall of fame in 2014, but people who knew him were not surprised at the honor.
“He was such a sincere person, he never changed,” said a friend of Anaya, Cheo Torres. “He was a person you could talk to, a person who fame never got to him.”
Anaya’s writings inspired Torres to move to New Mexico, but over the weekend, he learned his old friend and mentor had died at the age of 82. “Of course I’m sad we lost a giant but in a way, I’m happy he left a legend,” said Torres.
Born in Pastura, New Mexico, and raised in Santa Rosa, Anaya’s father was a vaquero while his mother’s family were farmers. Anaya went to Albuquerque High School and graduated from the University of New Mexico earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and eventually joined the UNM English faculty. He is known as one of the most renowned Chicano writers with his work focusing on culture, myth, and religion.
“Bless Me, Ultima” was a national best-seller and Anaya has written over 40 books including children’s books and plays and has won two Governor’s Public Service Awards from New Mexico, a Kellogg Foundation Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts literature fellowships, and the NEA National Medal of Arts Lifetime Honor in 2001 according to the National Endowment for the Humanities.
President Barack Obama awarded the 2015 National Humanities Medal to Anaya at the White House in 2016 during an annual ceremony.
Across Albuquerque, you can see Anaya’s influence: a library and an elementary school are named after him. Statewide, October 30 is designated as the ‘Rudolfo Anaya I Love to Read Day’ to promote literacy awareness.
Although New Mexico and the world has lost a literary giant, Torres said we will remember Anaya through his books.
“I think it was natural to write about the people, the place, the culture, the traditions and that’s where I’ve stayed basically,” said Anaya in a 2014 interview after he was inducted into the Albuquerque Wall of Fame. “This is what I write. I write New Mexico.”
Anaya’s family told News 13 he died at his home in Albuquerque after suffering from a long illness. His family said they are thankful to the community for the outpour of love and support. The novel ‘Bless Me, Ultima,’ was made into a feature film and a few years ago, Albuquerque’s National Hispanic Cultural Center said they wanted to make that novel into an opera.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued the following statement on Anaya’s passing on Tuesday:
I am deeply saddened today to hear of the death of Rudolfo Anaya, one of New Mexico’s greatest artists a seminal figure in our state’s rich history. Through his indelible stories, Rudolfo Anaya, perhaps better than any other author, truly captured what it means to be a New Mexican, what it means to be born here, grow up here and live here. His life’s work amounts to an incredible contribution to the great culture and fabric of our state – not only through his prodigious literary contributions but through his decades as an educator at the University of New Mexico.
I am especially grateful to have had the opportunity to sign legislation creating “Rudolfo Anaya I Love to Read Day,” highlighting children’s literary education and to have been able to celebrate that commemoration with his family. While his passing is a great loss for New Mexico, his life was an incredible gift, not just to New Mexico but to the world. His words and stories will be treasured forever. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones.”Gov. Lujan Grisham