ANACASTILLO (1953- )
Black Dove: Mama, Mi'jo, and Me
Friday • June 10 • 6 to 8 pm
Reading and Book Signing
The woman in the United States who is politcally self-described as Chicana, mestiza in terms of race, and Latina or Hispanic in regards to her Spanish-speaking heritage, and who numbers in the millions in the United States cannot be summarized nor neatly categorized.
--Massacre of the Dreamers
Ana Castillo grew up speaking Spanish in a working-class Italian neighborhood in Chicago, where she first encountered the prejudice that led her to become active in the Chicano and feminist movements. She feels, however, that the urban environment was beneficial in that it exposed her to a range of cultures, beliefs, and customs. Her parents were great storytellers, but they took the practical road of sending their daughter to a secretarial high school. However, Castillo’s lack of interest and poor typing skills led her to pursue higher education at Chicago City College and then Northern Illinois University. At first she studied art but was so discouraged by teachers who failed to understand her cultural and feminine perspective that she turned to writing for personal expression and finished with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts in 1975. Supporting herself by serving as a college lecturer and a writer-in-residence for the Illinois Arts Council, Castillo then worked toward her master’s degree in Latin American and Caribbean studies at the University of Chicago and graduated in 1979. The years that followed were filled with a variety of short-term college teaching positions. In 1991, Castillo was granted a doctorate in American studies from the University of Bremen in Germany.
Castillo has said she never thought of writing as a way to make a living. Her topics have been such that she also did not expect to be noticed by the mainstream. Nevertheless, by the mid-1990s Castillo had won several prestigious awards and was able to become a full-time writer. Although Castillo started out as a poet, she has also written novels and short stories with themes that mirror her poetry: social consciousness, feminism, and life as a Chicana. Among her awards are two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships (1990 and 1995), and the Carl Sandburg Literary Award in 1993 for her novel So Far from God (1993). Other acclaimed works are The Mixquiahuala Letters (1986); Peel My Love like an Onion (1999); My Father Was a Toltec and Selected Poems 1973–1988 (1995; originally published as My Father Was a Toltec: Poems in 1988); Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma (1994), a collection of essays; and Loverboys (1996), a collection of stories. In addition, Castillo’s work appears in numerous anthologies, and she has published various articles. In April 2000, Castillo and other notable Chicagoans were depicted on a historical mural on the sky deck of the Sears Tower.
In 2001, Castillo published her fifth volume of poetry, I Ask the Impossible, which contains work written over the previous eleven years. Intended to express topics relevant to women, particularly poor or minority women, the poems are about death, social protest, love, and family relationships. Among the poems is “While I Was Gone a War Began,” as well as several poems that focus on the childhood of Castillo’s son, Marcel Ramon Herrera.