Bless Me, Ultima

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Bless Me, Ultima is a coming-of-age novel by Rudolfo Anaya centering on Antonio Márez y Luna and his mentorship under his curandera 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. Teachers across disciplines in middle schools, high schools and universities have adopted it as a way to implement multicultural literature in their classes. The novel reflects Hispano 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.
The ways in which the novel provides insight into the religiosity of Chicano culture were first explored in 1982 in an essay titled “A Perspective for a Study of Religious Dimensions in Chicano Experience: Bless Me, Ultima as a Religious Text”, written by Mexican American historian of religion David Carrasco. This essay was the first scholarly text to explore how the novel alludes to the power of sacred landscapes and sacred humans.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 selected for The Big Read, a community-reading program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 2009, it was the selected novel of the United States Academic Decathlon.
Bless Me, Ultima is the first in a trilogy that continued with the publication of Heart of Aztlan (1976) and Tortuga (1979). With the publication of his novel, Alburquerque (1992), Anaya was proclaimed a front-runner by Newsweek in “what is better called not the new multicultural writing, but the new American writing.”Owing to what some consider adult language, violent content, and sexual references, Bless Me, Ultima is often the target of attempts to restrict access to the book and was therefore placed on the list of most commonly challenged books in the U.S. in 2013. However, in the last third of the twentieth century, the novel has initiated respect for Chicano literature as an important and nonderivative type of American literature among academics.

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