Book Group Explores New Mexico Literature

Juan Gallegos

Juan Gallegos

Las Vegas, N.M – An upcoming reading group at Highlands University will explore the history and culture of New Mexico through literature written by authors such as Rudolfo Anaya, who won the National Medal of Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.

The free public reading group that begins Sept. 10 is part of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant Highlands University’s Donnelly Library received to present a program called Latino Americans: 500 Years of History.

Highlands University English professor Juan Gallegos will lead the reading group as part of Donnelly’s ongoing reading groups that explore a different topic each semester.

“All three books are written by award-winning New Mexico authors,” Gallegos said. “Rudolfo Anaya is a Norteño from Northern New Mexico while Denise Chávez and Benjamin Alire Sáenz are Sureños from Southern New Mexico. What draws you into their fiction are their strong characters. I chose these books to show that New Mexico writers use a variety of styles and work from different perspectives. I also wanted to feature newer fiction.”

The book discussions begin at 7 p.m. in Donnelly Library, 802 National Ave., on these dates:

Sept. 10 – Randy Lopez Goes Home by Rudolfo Anaya

Oct. 8 – The King and Queen of Comezón by Denise Chávez

Nov. 12 – Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

The books are available at Donnelly and the library offers free library cards to area residents.

“I chose Anaya because we see him as the father of the Chicano-Chicana literary movement in New Mexico. In his 2011 book Randy Lopez Goes Home one of the primary themes is about going home, including the conflict between traditional Nuevo Mexicano rural life and the modern American lifestyle,” Gallegos said.

Anaya, who is best known for his 1972 novel, Bless Me, Ultima, has been named for numerous literary honors such as the American Book Award for Tortuga, his 1979 novel. He taught at the University of New Mexico for nearly 20 years.

“In Chavez’ 2014 novel, The King and Queen of Comezón, there are a variety of the intriguing characters working through their longings, often defying expectations. A comézon is an itch or a longing,” Gallegos said.

Chávez won the National Book Award for Face of an Angel, her 1990 novel. She established the Border Book Festival in El Paso, Texas in 1995 and was its longtime director.

In Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club, Sáenz writes a book of fictional short stories about the experiences of being a gay Latino man,Gallegos said.

Sáenz won the PEN/Faulker Award for Fiction for Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club. He directs the Creative Writing program at University of Texas – El Paso.

Gallegos joined the Highlands faculty in 2014 after completing his doctorate in English from the University of Arizona in rhetoric, composition and the teaching of English. He directs the Writing Center at Highlands and teaches courses such as freshman composition and Chicano/a literature. The Montezuma, New Mexico native earned his M.A. in English from Highlands.

April Kent, a Donnelly librarian and head of public services, wrote the successful National Endowment for the Humanities and American Library Association grant.

“The purpose of this NEH grant program is to look at the Latino American experience within the context of America’s social and cultural history,” Kent said. “One thing that often gets overlooked in national discussions of Latino American history is the New Mexico story. This programming addresses that.”

Kent said upcoming programming for the grant includes a screening of the PBS documentary Latino Americans and a lecture series.

For more information, contact Kent at ajkent@nmhu.edu or visit the library.