A MELUS Interview: Ana Castillo
Saeta, Elsa, MELUS
Over the last three decades, Chicano literature has experienced its own renaissance. Many of the voices in that literary renacimiento belong to women -- by the 1990s, nearly two-thirds of the contemporary literature was being written by women. Firmly committed to challenging and redefining the gender, race, culture, and class distinctions which have historically defined Chicanos/as in the United States, Chicana writers have become "conscious transmitters of literary expression ... excavators of our common culture, mining legends, folklore, and myths for our own metaphors" (Ana Castillo Massacre of the Dreamers). Writing can dream and invent new possibilities. It is the utopian space where the long-silenced Other begins to speak heretofore unheard things -- where authority is questioned, tradition subverted, privilege challenged. One of the most articulate, powerful voices in contemporary Chicana literature belongs to author Ana Castillo whose work has long questioned, subverted, and challenged the status quo.
An internationally recognized poet, novelist, essayist, and editor, Castillo first published her poetry in the chapbooks, Otro Canto (1977) and The Invitation (1979). Frequently anthologized, her early poetry ensured her reputation as a social protest poet. Her first collection, Women Are Not Roses (1984), was followed by the critically acclaimed My Father Was a Toltec (1988). An expanded edition of that collection -- My Father Was a Toltec: New and Collected Poems was published in 1995. The recipient of numerous fellowships, grants, and awards, Castillo has published three novels -- the classic The Mixquiahuala Letters (1986, 1992), Sapogonia (1990, 1994) and the acclaimed So Far From God (1993). Her collection of critical essays, Massacres of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma (1994), has been described as an unorthodox blend of cultural criticism, social sciences, and creative literature. In this collection, Castillo reissues her invitation to engage in a much needed dialogue on racism, sexism, and classicism, on sexuality and spirituality, on mothering and motherhood.
In this extended excerpt from interviews and conversations between March 1993 and October 1994, Castillo focuses on her prose discussing her development as a writer, the background of her fictional works, and the development as a writer, the background of her fictional works, and the philosophical backdrop of her critical works.
Interviewer: Ana, when did you decide to be a writer?
Castillo: It was not something I ever intended to do. And it's very difficult for me even now to regard it as a profession or career. I started out very much wanting to be a visual artist in an environment in Chicago in which that would not have been considered a real profession for me. I was sent to business school--rather a secretarial girls high school--when I was a teenager. That was what I was supposed to be according to my family and my background--be a file clerk. I suppose I couldn't have been a secretary because I'm a lousy typist and I've always had this aversion to authority, so I knew that I wouldn't get far in that atmosphere.
But I loved to draw--I always loved to draw and I always liked to write. I've written since I was very little. I wrote poetry and wrote stories and drew on whatever I could, painted on whatever I could--anything, any piece of paper that was around. So when I got to college age, I started to send myself to school: first to junior college, and then to a regular college. During the mid 70s, the extent of the racism and the sexism of the university in a city like Chicago discouraged me to such a degree that by the time I was finishing my B.A.--and it took a lot of work to get scholarships and grants to get through the university system--I was really convinced that I had no talent. I couldn't draw and I had no right to be painting. And, I couldn't draw anymore--I literally did not draw or paint anymore. …