‘The Big Read’ to highlight Southwestern culture
The Lamar University Department of English and Modern Languages is joining Lamar State College-Orange Ron E. Lewis Library and the Stark Museum of Art in The Big Read’s spring events. The selection for The Big Read is the 1972 book “Bless Me Ultima,” by Rudolfo Anaya.
Jim Sanderson, chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Lamar University, and Catalina Castillon, associate professor of Spanish at Lamar will lead discussions about the book and its setting. Guest speaker Denise Chavez, Hispana author and social activist, will read and discuss selections from the book, and the Stark Museum of Art is showing an exhibition of New Mexican art inspired by “Ultima.”
The program is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and encourages reading for pleasure. LSC-O received an $11,200 grant from the NEA to sponsor The Big Read in Orange and Jefferson County communities.
Castillon will lead a discussion with the American Association of University Women's book group March 26 at 6 p.m. at the Ron E. Lewis Library. Castillon will answer questions and highlight key points in the narrative, as well as place the novel in a real-world context.
“Very few people know, for example, how many Spanish newspapers were published in the United States in the 18th and 19th century,” she said. “These publications really speak to the bilingual nature of the populations in different regions and how it affects the culture.”
Jim Sanderson will discuss the “History and Cultures of New Mexican-Americans and Texan Americans” April 4, at 7 p.m., in room 702 of the Mary and John Gray Library. Sanderson’s presentation looks at the historical and geographical background of New Mexico Texas and Mexico, focusing on three groups, Native Americans, Anglos and Hispanics, and the tension that arose between them.
“It is the land of borders culturally and geographically,” Sanderson said. “You have all of these pieces overlapping each other and so that sets up some conflict.”
Castillon will discuss “Anaya's ‘Bless Me, Ultima’ and the Literary Tradition of Hispanics in the US” April 11, at 7 p.m., in room 702 of the Mary and John Gray Library.
Chavez will speak April 24 at 7 p.m. on the eighth floor in the Mary and John Gray Library and April 25 at 6:30 p.m. at Lutcher Theatre. Chavez and Anaya are literary contemporaries and have had communications over the years. There is no fee for admission to either event. Chavez will read selections from “Ultima” and discuss issues surrounding Hispano (American-Southwestern) culture.
“She is going to be speaking about the author and the novel at the Lutcher in Orange, and here she will be ‘Denise Chavez’ and discuss her own works and expertise as well,” Sanderson said. “There is a lot of literature that is distinctly New Mexican, which is very much her specialty, so she will speak about that.”
Chavez will be available for questions and book signings after the presentation.
The Stark Museum of Art is joining Lamar State College-Orange in The Big Read with “Wild Beauty: the New Mexico Setting,” an exhibition that takes inspiration from Rudolfo Anaya’s novel “Bless Me, Ultima.” Visitors to the exhibition will see works by Taos and Santa Fe artists, such as Ernest Martin Hennings, Joseph Henry Sharp, Ernest Leonard Blumenschein, Nicolai Fechin and Georgia O’Keeffe. To stress the connection with the novel, quotes from the book are placed in different sections of the exhibition, both in English and in Spanish. The museum will also provide tours in Spanish upon request.
Elena Ivanova, chief educator at the Stark Museum of Art said both the novel and paintings by Southwestern masters immerse the consumer in the powerful landscape of the New Mexico setting. The mixture of media helps one gain insight into the culture of the people who live there and gives visual representation of the setting of Anaya’s book.
“The exhibition emphasizes the idea of a deeply spiritual relationship with nature, which was common to both local Indian and Hispanic cultures and which plays a crucial role in Anaya’s novel,” Ivanova said.
The exhibition will be open to the public during the museum public hours, Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will be on display March 16 through June 8.
Ivanova will lead a book discussion about “Bless Me, Ultima” at the Stark Museum May 18 at 2 p.m. The discussion is included with museum admission. Ivanova will discuss Anaya’s novel as well as paintings by Southwestern artists in the exhibition “Wild Beauty: The New Mexico Setting.” There will also be a presentation on “Edible and Medicinal Plants of Texas and the Southwest” June 1 at 2 p.m. Cost is included with museum admission.
Castillon said reading Hispanic literature can help one gain insight into a growing population in the U.S.
“Literature can really provide a window into another culture and teach you about a different way of life and a different way of looking at the world,” she said. “I encourage everyone to participate and learn about the Hispanic culture. By doing so, you will belong to the biggest book club in America just by reading the book and participating in the activities. Hopefully one will discover, not only things about the Chicano culture, but also things about herself as well.”