Castillo was born and raised in an inner city barrio of Chicago, Illinois. After completing undergraduate studies, she immediately began teaching college courses. She earned her Master's degree in Latin American and Caribbean studies from the University of Chicago with a thesis entitled "The Idealization and Reality of the Mexican Indian Woman". She received her doctorate from the University of Bremen, Germany, in American studies in 1991. In lieu of a traditional dissertation, she submitted the essays later collected in her highly acclaimed work Massacre of the Dreamers.
Castillo writes about Chicana feminism, which she dubs "Xicanisma", and her work centers on issues of identity, racism, and classism. Many of her protagonists are fiercely independent, sometimes lesbian, women. Her "imaginative fiction" shows the influence of magical realism. For example, the novel Sapogonia is about a fictional country that is the home to all mestizos. Much of her work has been translated into Spanish. She has also contributed articles and essays to such publications as the Los Angeles Times and Salon.
Her papers are housed at the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
So Far from God Castillo's third novel (1993), might best be described as a telenovela, in which intimate details of people’s loves and losses are told, and what will happen in the next day’s broadcast is hinted at. The novel, set in the tiny village of Tome, New Mexico, employs magic realism to examine the lives of Mexican-American women on the borders. The character Sofi, a middle-aged single mother, and her four daughters live at a crossroads between Chicano, Mexican, Spanish, and First Nations cultures. While juggling her small business duties and childcare, Sofi confronts both the modern technological moment and ageless traditions of birth, growth, and loss; for comfort, she and her neighbors are immersed in competing religious traditions of Catholicism, curanderismo, and folk-traditions concerning the nature of the spirit.
Ana Castillo and Cherrie Moraga, 1989, by Robert Giard
As the novel opens, La Loca, Sofi’s youngest daughter, dies, examines the details of hell, and then comes back to Tome to live. Since she has experienced much of the spirit world, it is no wonder that she has epileptic fits, cannot stand the smell of people (preferring the company of horses), frequently talks with the Mexican-American folk character La Llorona, and despite her lack of body, dies once more of AIDS. Sofi’s next youngest daughter’s barhopping lifestyle leads to her rape, but not by a man, by la Malogra, a New Mexican folkloric monster said to haunt empty highways. Miraculously healed, this daughter, whose name is Caridad, trains to become a curandera (traditional healer), and joins the annual pilgrimage to Chimayo, where she meets her beloved, a woman. Francisco, the village santero (saint-carver), stalks Caridad, only to see her leap, with her beloved, from the great heights of Acoma, the pueblo built atop a mountain which was difficult for Spanish conquerors to take by surprise; and thus her exit enacts freedom from her male pursuer, freedom from “conquest,” and untouchable and undying faith in her love. Fe, the next daughter in line, immerses herself in a relentless pursuit of the American Dream, which for her include a husband and a house of her own. Led by her employer’s promises of more money, she undertakes jobs that place her in contact with dangerous chemicals, until she sickens and dies of cancer. Sofi’s eldest daughter, Esperanza, gains an education and moves away to have a life independent of that of the village. However, her job as news anchorwoman takes her to Saudi Arabia, where she is killed in the war. Her spirit walks with that of La Llorona in Tome’s acequia (irrigation channel) and frequently converses with La Loca.
At the novel’s conclusion, Sofi is strengthened, not destroyed, by the loss of her daughters and turns away from the traditional life of the home-maker to the life of a politician and reformer, seeking to create a weaving cooperative. Interestingly, names in this novel form a kind of allegory. Sofi, whose name means “wisdom,” having lost, in her daughters, the Christian tenets of faith (Fe), hope (Esperanza) and charity (Caridad), places her wisdom and strength at the service of her neighbors so that they may continue to survive.
So Far from God is set within the United States, but as a border novel, it is neither Mexican nor American, but a hybrid form which records history and traditions in both cultures. Its title is from a quotation by Mexican president Porfirio Diaz ["Pobre Mexico tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos." ("Poor Mexico so far from God and so close to the United States.")], a man who carried both Spanish and Indian genes, and who was popular for a time for refusing to join with the last foreign emperor of Mexico, Maximilian I of Mexico.
Ana Castillo and her son, 1989, by Robert Giard
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digital
Loverboys by Ana Castillo
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (July 17, 2008)
“Seductive ... full of infectious vigor ... these stories demand, above all, to be listened to.”—New York Times Book Review
From Ana Castillo, the widely praised author of So Far from God and The Guardians, comes this collection of stories on the experience of love in all its myriad configurations. Infectiously moody and murderously comic, Castillo chronicles the rapturous beginnings, melancholy middles, and bittersweet endings of modern romance between men and women, men and men, and women and women.
More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices
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