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Contributor Spotlight on Ana Castillo

by Dan Froid

During Ana Castillo’s recent appearance at UNL, she read her long poem, “‘Like the people of Guatemala, I want to be free of these memories…’—Sister Dianna Ortíz,” a moving and beautiful poem about the Ursuline nun of the title, who was captured and tortured during a missionary trip in Guatemala. The room was silent; it felt like everyone was, like me, overwhelmed by Castillo’s emotional performance of the poem—which came just minutes after she read “El Chicle,” a lighthearted poem about a piece of gum that falls from her son’s mouth.

This ability to shift so easily between tones provides some indication of the range and power of Castillo’s work: Ana Castillo can do just about anything. She’s a novelist, poet, short-story writer, playwright, essayist, translator, and editor—as well as a contributor to Prairie Schooner. She’s also one of the most prominent figures in contemporary Chicana literature. Castillo is in the spotlight this week because of her many recent appearances, as well as her numerous new or upcoming books.

She released a novel in May of this year, Give It to Me (Feminist Press, 2014). In December, the University of New Mexico Press will publish a new edition of her groundbreaking essay collection Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma to commemorate its twentieth anniversary. And Feminist Press will publish a new book, My Mother’s Mexico: New and Collected Essays, in spring 2015. In addition to her new publications, she’s also received a number of accolades this year. Dominican University (located in River Forest, IL) appointed her the Lund-Gill Endowed Chair for academic year 2014-2015. Castillo recently appeared at UNL to read from her latest work and lead a craft talk for creative writers. Later this month, Castillo will deliver the 2014 Rudolfo & Patricia Anaya Lecture on the Literature of the Southwest at the University of New Mexico. (For details, visit the lecture series homepage.)

Her long, multifaceted career includes a contribution to Prairie Schooner. The brief, beautiful “Being Indian, a Candle Flame, and So Many Dying Stars” appeared in the Winter 1994 issue. Here’s an excerpt:

            I left the parlor midway through the video about the Chamula Indian and his dying boy and told Eugenia and David, who were sitting in the kitchen having a shot of mescal that David took from his Buddhist altar to calm their nerves since they had both just been kicked out of a bar down the street for no other reason than that the bartender didn’t like their faces, “I can’t watch anymore. Is there any mescal left?”

            They both shook their heads. There had only been a tiny bottle of it, the size you buy on airplanes but I don’t know any airlines that carry mescal. I was trying not to cry since I am supposed to be the brave one of the group although they don’t know that or seem to think so. “It is moments like this, watching that story about the Chamulas, that I know that I am Indian,” I said in my own language and not in this one that I am speaking to you now because if I don’t, like the Chamulas, my story will be annihilated and not heard.

Find the rest of this story and plenty more in Castillo’s 1996 collection Loverboys.

For more about Castillo herself, visit her personal website, which provides information about her many books as well as her ‘zine (she’s publisher and editor-in-chief), La Tolteca. You can also read an interview with her here.