Professor Leads Reading Group About Culture, Place and Perseverance

February 12, 2020

Eric Romero

Eric Romero

Las Vegas, N.M – An upcoming reading group at New Mexico Highlands University will explore three American novels that delve into culture, place and perseverance.

The “True Grit, True Culture, True Place” reading and discussion group begins Feb. 27. Eric Romero, faculty member in the Native American/Hispano Cultural Studies program at Highlands, will lead the group.

“My research focuses around place identity – the multilevel relationship a person establishes with their landscape, environment and community,” Romero said. “I’m looking at these three novels and the similarities on how they incorporate ideas of place identity, heritage and cultural conflicts.”

The free book discussions are from 6 to 7 p.m. in Highlands University’s Donnelly Library, 802 National Ave., on these dates:

Thursday, Feb. 27 – “True Grit” by Charles Portis

Thursday, March 26 – “So Far from God” by Ana Castillo

Thursday, April 16 – “The Way to Rainy Mountain” by N. Scott Momaday

The reading group is part of the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read program at Highlands. The program aims to foster a love of reading. All of the books for the reading and discussion group are available at Donnelly Library.

American author Charles Portis wrote the classic novel about the Old West, “True Grit,” in 1968. It was adapted into acclaimed movies in 1969 and 2010.

“’True Grit” describes the relentless endeavors of 14-year-old Mattie Ross to find justice for the murder of her father at the hands of the villain, Tom Chaney. To do so, Mattie coerces and befriends U.S. Marshal ‘Rooster’ Cogburn into a perilous and eventful bounty search. The relationships that develops between the two protagonists is demonstrated in a lively exchange of words, perspectives and goals,” Romero said.

Romero said “True Grit” will be analyzed from the perspective of looking at rural behavior and frontier justice.

American author Ana Castillo’s “So Far From God” novel was published in 2011 and is set in the small town of Tomé, New Mexico.

“Castillo’s contemporary novel provides multiple perspectives concerning family life in a New Mexico village. Life and its mishaps are framed around the story of four daughters as they navigate disparate but related lives. Castillo’s poetic accounting of the family’s plight is embedded with Hispanic cultural practices, language and folklore. Castillo incorporates a northern New Mexico version of mystical realism and illuminates the narrative with philosophic insights,” Romero said.

Romero said place is an important part of the story in “So Far From God.”

“The Way to Rainy Mountain” is American author and Pulitzer prize winner N. Scott Momaday’s 1969 historical novel about the forced journey his Kiowa ancestors made from Montana to Oklahoma.

“Momaday describes the emotional trauma of displacement and forced cultural assimilation in “The Way to Rainy Mountain.” Momaday emphasizes this particular journey of the Kiowa nation, which parallels other historical forced migrations of Native Americans,” Romero said.

Romero said “The Way to Rainy Mountain” story is expressed in three perspectives: the ancestral, the historical and the personal.

April Kent, a Donnelly librarian and head of public services, coordinates the library’s reading groups.

“The reading groups are informal, and I encourage people to join the discussion whenever they can,” Kent said. “At Donnelly we offer free library cards to area residents.”

For more information, contact Kent at 505-454-3139, ajkent@nmhu.edu, or visit the library.

The NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowments for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.