Bless Me, Albuquerque

luis

I have come to honor Rudolfo Anaya.

Late spring in Illinois. The heat has fallen on us like a wool blanket just out of the dryer. This morning, there was a huge raccoon lying in our yard, trembling, having trouble walking. Big as a dog. Our idiot cat decided to stalk him. Oh, great, a rabies apocalypse waiting to happen. But the poor beast hove to its feet and staggered into the brush and vanished. I think he was hit by a car. We're all watching for him, ready to call him in if anyone in the neighborhood sees him. I missed all this drama, so I'm relating the tale as told by Cinderella. Hey, I was sleeping late. I was wiped out from my trip to 'Burque to receive the National Hispanic Cultural Center literary award.

People razz me lately. "Did you win any major national awards THIS WEEK?" is a common jibe. OK, yeah--I won the Edgar Award the other day. Uh-huh. And I won this award this week. So there. I'm a one man Mongol horde. But good things, like bad things, are seasonal, are sporadic, and are slightly ephemeral. I like moments like this because they remind me, when I'm mourning something awful--like the death of the genius poet Rane Arroyo--that all moments sooner or later struggle to their feet like our ailing coon and hide in the bushes. I suspect I don't register these awards because I think they are, somehow, fake, or an accident, or somebody somewhere is pitying poor ol' me. I think: oh yeah? Well, I didn't win the ________ (your favorite here) award! And that is a load of happy crappy because I never, never wrote for awards! Or reviews! I wrote, and write, to WRITE. But, um, listen, if you want to send me some more statues and handsome framed certificates, by all means, please, go right ahead and do it. Because, when all kidding is done, it is an honor that I can't quite wrap my head around. Probably too much shame, poverty, desperation and loneliness in my foundation. Maybe God is trying to shore up the old bricks.

Well, I rushed off to 'Burque. I was on the Southwest Airlines cattle-car flight, B group. Thought I'd never get a seat, at least not a seat that wasn't between unhappy people, but I did. Hallelujah. Reading Lee Child. How can you take a plane and not read Lee Child?

Got to town in time for the lunch and the open-mike reading at the Cultural Center. As I sat at the table with a wonderful group pof authors, agents, editors, a woman come over demanding a signature on her BEAUTIFUL NORTH. She said, warmly, "You're not going to like hearing this, but HUMMINGBIRD'S DAUGHTER is not a good book." Everyone turned to her with their mouths open. She said, "What do you want me to do? It's no good." Then she gave me her stories and asked that I help her get published. I have been laughing about this for two days. It's so classic.

I saw the fabulous Lucha Corpi. Hung out with Rigoberto Gonzalez. Was so thrilled to finally meet Juan Felipe Herrera. Homeboy! A Logan barrio boy like me. Though, as he pointed out, "I was from the lowlands--you were from the heights." Juan Felipe and I were laughing it up like maniacs. It was so good to see him. The Hummingbird-hater accosted him and insulted one of his books. That was priceless, watching his eyebrows go up to the top of his head.

Rushed back to the hotel to shower and iron my good clothes and get back to the Centro in time for the banquet and the awards. Now, RUDY ANAYA. I knew, right away, that I was going to dedicate the award to Rudy. If you know my bad book, HD, you know it owes its DNA to BLESS ME, ULTIMA. I owe so much to Rudy, perhaps I'll post a further blog here about his role in the lives of so many of us. I like to tell people he is our uncle. He has fed, housed, edited, promoted, hosted, published, educated, scolded, inspired, directed so many of us--sometimes I feel like Rudy has upheld the majority of the Latino literary world, or at least its southwestern division.

Rudy wife, Pat, passed away about four months ago. And Rudy has not been feeling well. But they ntold mer he was coming for the event--his first public appearance since the tragedy. And there he was! Beaming. Swamped with well-wishers and fans. Using a handsome carved cane. "I bought it as an art object," he said. "I never thought I'd be using it!"

I won't grand-stand here. I'll just say we drank mucho vino tinto. Demetria Martinez and Rigoberto and I sat with Rudy. Musicians played, and Rudy let loose a few gritos. I was so happy to see him happy. Then, when I spoke, I dedicated the award to him. I said, "Without Ultima, there is no Hummingbird. And without you, Rudy, there is no me." Dude. I cried. So did everybody else. It was a good moment. At the end there, when I got back to our table, I was able, in the tumult, to say, "I love you, Rudy."

Late that night, I joined a bunch of my colleagues in the hotel lobby. Just basking in the art-light. You know that light? Were you a bohemian like me in your youth? Were you up all night arguing movies, books, rock and roll? Going to bed at dawn after some mad poetry duel or systematic play-through of every Groundhogs album in sequence? Maybe that was only Rick Elias and David Thomson and me.

You know, here I am Naperville dad. Going to high school graduation. Taking out the trash. hanging with the neighbors drinking beer and complaining about the yard work. But then I take off my Dadman suit and put on my Writerman suit. Shazam! I join the other superheroes of the typing world and laugh all night. Well, OK, we're all moms and dads. So I make it to about midnight. They talk big, but they stifle yawns and stagger off at the same time I do. We have planes to catch. Families. Kids and dogs and lawns and sick coons in the yard.

Rick Najera and Stephanie Elizondo Greist and assorted pals and Rick's lovely wife all enjoyed the bohemian vibe for an hour or two. And the Hummingbird-hater staggered around insulting people. I went to bed so grateful. So happy.

And Rudy has asked me to bring Cinderella to his house to stay when we come back on book tour in June. BEAUTIFUL NORTH paperback, y'all. It's going to be a marathon. But I cannot wait to see Rudy again. I cannot wait to try to offer back just a little of the goodness he has brought us all.

I'll write you some of that story a little later. I have to go out and make sure our kids aren't getting chased by rabid mammals. I have to go out and give thanks....

Yrs., Luigi

Comments

Michelle (not verified)

Luis-

Congratulations... again! Like another one of your fans said, you do deserve "every bit of praise." It was great to see you acknowledge Rudolfo Anaya for the inspiration he provided you and the love he has given all. The community I live in recently used Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima for our community-wide Big Read and I was thrilled to have a chance to actually speak to the living-legend myself. Now through email, I have a chance to speak to another. Thank you so much for all of your literary contributions. I absolutely adore you and got very excited recently to hear you will be coming about 100 miles north of where I live to Sacramento. Yahoo! I missed you in Berkeley. I'm not letting it happen again. I'm definitely going to make you sign my cherished copy of that crappy book Hummingbird's Daughter!

With abiding affection,
Michelle

Charlene Ann Ba... (not verified)

Art-light. Yes. I know it well. Have glowed in its aftermath many times. Thank you for giving it words.

Cara Lopez Lee (not verified)

Thanks for sharing this. From top to bottom, don't we writers often move through a luminous world full of illuminating people? On the other hand, I'll be laughing about the Hummingbird Hater for a long time to come. "Your book sucks, but will you help me get mine published?" Hilarious!

BTW - Hummingbird's Daughter is one of the few novels I've read that I consider perfect. So there, Ms. H.H.

Grace Sanchez (not verified)

Thanks for the writing, your love shines through your work. Bless Me Ultima, all those writers that got published early on were such a blessing to me. To have a voice that sounded like my family was so wonderful. Thanks to Mr Anaya and thanks to you Luis for respecting and loving your ancestors.

Liz (not verified)

Feeling so blessed. Thanks for sharing.

el poquito (not verified)

I have a feeling this is one of those events that's going to be seeping into you over time - you as part of that fabric. This is your herencia - and I can attest first-hand how you have shared that with the same spirit of generosity that has been offered to you. In the book of my herencia, both you and Rudolfo Anaya are written into the same chapter. Thanks for taking us for the ride - taking me back to NM for a night. Hope all the good of it stays with you a long time - well, at least till you return. How cool is that?! Makes me smile for ya.

El Dirque (not verified)

I taught Bless Me for several years at Hilltop High School in Chulajuana, CA. 9th Grade English. The kids liked it as long as they didn't have too many god-help-us essays ("Another chingadera essay, ese?")
When they were seniors I had some of them again and made them read "Across the Wire". Now that one they loved. All the glue-sniffing and blood-specked feces just spoke to their bordertown hearts. Congrats on your enshrinement, dude. Look for a package coming your way soon (and fear not the reaper) . . .

Grace (not verified)

Nice. And congratulations. You deserve every award, every good review, every bit of praise.

Erikita La Erika (not verified)

Beautiful!

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Book club members have been some of my most enthusiastic and careful readers. I’m thrilled to share my work with you, answer your questions and tell you some of the stories behind the stories. This is our spot, just for us. Here, we can chat:  If I’m nearby, I’ll come and visit your club. Otherwise, we can Skype, talk over the phone or email. Sometimes, I’ll send surprises or hold contests.

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