Rudolfo Anaya was born on October 30, 1937, in Pastura, New Mexico, the fifth of seven children. Anaya also had three half-siblings from his parents’ previous marriages. When Anaya was still very young, his family moved to Santa Rosa, New Mexico. When he was a teenager, his family moved again, this time to Albuquerque, where Anaya graduated from high school in 1956. He attended business school for two years and dropped out before finishing, but he graduated from the University of New Mexico a few years later. Anaya worked as a public school teacher in Albuquerque from 1963 to 1970. During that period, he married Patricia Lawless. Afterward, he worked as the director of counseling for the University of Albuquerque for two years before accepting a position as an associate professor at the University of New Mexico.
When Anaya was a freshman in college, he began writing poetry and novels. His wife encouraged him to pursue his literary endeavors, and over a period of seven years, he completed his first and best-known novel, Bless Me, Ultima. East Coast publishing houses rejected the novel repeatedly. Finally, in 1972, a group of Chicano publishers accepted his book. Bless Me, Ultima went on to win the prestigious Premio Quinto Sol award and is now considered a classic Chicano work.
Bless Me, Ultima is the story of a young boy’s coming-of-age within a cultural tapestry that includes Spanish, Mexican, and Native American influences, and in which many of the major cultural forces conflict with one another. The young boy, Antonio Márez, must navigate a number of conflicts—between farmers and cowboys, Spanish and indigenous peoples, and English-speaking and Spanish-speaking peoples—that collectively structured the cultural life in rural New Mexico during the 1940s. The novel is also semiautobiographical. Like Antonio’s parents, Anaya’s mother was the daughter of farmers and his father was a vaquero, or cowboy. In his teens, Anaya suffered a serious swimming injury that left him temporarily paralyzed. This incident appears in Bless Me, Ultima when Florence, Antonio’s friend, dies in a swimming accident. Like Antonio’s family, Anaya’s family respected the art of curanderismo, or folk medicine, which Ultima practices throughout the book. Anaya and his siblings moved between the Spanish- and English-speaking worlds, and they were raised in a devoutly Catholic home, like the Márez children were. And like Antonio’s brothers, Anaya’s brothers were fighting in World War II during most of his early childhood.
Anaya has become a prominent Chicano intellectual and writer since the publication of Bless Me, Ultima. He has given lectures at many colleges and has won several literary awards for his work. Over the years, he has demonstrated a strong commitment to helping new Chicano writers through the difficult and sometimes daunting process of getting their voices heard.