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Wednesday, 1 July 2020

So sad to hear of the death of Rudy Anaya

I was deeply saddened this morning to hear that that my dear friend, teacher and mentor Rudolfo Anaya, the Chicano novelist, has died aged 83. 

I met Rudy in 1986 when I was an exchange student at the University of New Mexico. I had a full year in which to take whatever courses I pleased, and decided to focus on western American Lit and creative writing.

Attending Rudy's senior year, and later his graduate, workshops opened my eyes to all kinds of possibilities, such was the breadth of skills and range of ambitions among the assembled class members. My good fortune was to work with a group of people writing novels based on their experience of war, of prison, of running away from home and joining a circus (yes, really!) - not to mention a very sexy trilogy set in ancient India at the time of Alexander the Great. The styles of writing were equally varied - and so racy, so adventurous. I was very much the oddity with my sonorous old world diction and long sentences. Rudy embraced and praised all of us. He never made us feel anything other than writers - and writers with a chance of making it.

He was a generous, kind man. I say that not just because he invited me, my wife and kids to his house and fed us, but because he recognised how hard it was for me to stay afloat with a family to support. (As well as attending a full load of classes, I was running a window-cleaning business and tutoring part-time.) On one occasion, when he came down with a severe cold he asked me to sit in for him - to lead the (three-hour) class discussion. He promised me a small honorarium, which, when it came, was a crisp $50 bill. I had it my pocket next day as I drove down town to clean windows at a couple of restaurants. I was day-dreaming about a visit with the family to Nuncio's pizza place when I shot over the RR tracks a tad fast and ripped a tyre to shreds. The bill for that came to - you guessed it: $50. Plus tax.

I could say more about Rudy, and I realise I haven't mentioned his work  Suffice to say that during all the years when I taught western lit to my classes back home I always had them read his classic Bless Me, Ultima, a book I have enjoyed more than once. My students did too, by and large. If you haven't tried it, do. I think it could open your eyes to the Hispanic experience, at least as it was for one generation in rural New Mexico seventy-five years ago.

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