Judge’s Comments for Non-fiction

Nominations for the nonfiction PEN Texas Southwest Literary Awards continue the high standards of writing, research, and scholarship of past submissions. This year the nonfiction committee has chosen three strong books. They are:

Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines by Stephanie Elizondo Griest (Washington Square Press, 2008).

The Essays by Rudolfo Anaya; Foreword by Robert Con Davis-Undiano (University of Oklahoma Press, 2009).

The Ancient Southwest: Chaco Canyon, Bandelier, and Mesa Verde by David E. Stuart (University of New Mexico Press, 2009).

 

PROFESSOR DAVID STUART is cofounder of the University of New Mexico’s Office of Contract Archeology and teaches the archeology of New Mexico at UNM. For more than twenty-five years, David Stuart has written award-winning newspaper articles on regional archeology. The first collection of his research, Glimpses of the Ancient Southwest , was published in 1985. This 2009 revised edition contains the original and several new articles. Dr. Stewart’s book is carefully researched and informative, as well as poetically descriptive. For example, his view of the Red Mesa, once Anasazi land:

“Below, sizzling sand dunes and blotchy soils carpet the valley. It looks like an ancient painters cloth—stained, wrinkled, torn. The tears are deep, treacherous arroyos.”

 

RUDOLFO ANAYA, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico, is a Mexican-American educator and writer who grew up in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Best known as a fictionist—he is the author of 28 novels, including 10 children’s books—Anaya has received many literary awards, among them the Premio Quinto Sol and a National Medal of Arts. He has been acclaimed the founder of Chicano literature. In The Essays, a collection of 53 articles published in journals, newspapers, and magazines over the span of his long career, he has shown that he is a major essayist, a visionary ahead of his time, as well as a major novelist. His primary focus during the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s was to achieve equal educational and career opportunities for Mexican-Americans.

Anaya forcefully takes on issues of censorship, racism, and sexual politics. He confronts the mostly Anglo publishing establishment for its demands that Chicano writers take “the tortillas out of [their] poetry”—tortillas in this case meaning the language, history, cultural values and themes of Chicano literature. In 1978, he said of the progress and acceptance of Chicano literature, “The future looks good.” Two years later a New Mexico state senator and member of the board of education saw to it that copies of Anaya’s first novel, Bless Me Ultima, were removed from the high school of her district and BURNED. Nevertheless, Anaya optimistically urges his compadres “to listen within. . .Our nature moves us forward, groping for illumination, yearning for truer knowledge of our spiritual and human relationships. We know within that we can create a more fulfilling and harmonious future.”

 

STEPHANIE ELIZONDO GRIEST grew up in a small South Texas town not far from the Mexican border. Her mother was Hispanic, her father Anglo. Until she turned thirty, Stephanie chose to be “white” rather than Hispanic, spoke the Spanish language poorly, and generally reaped the benefits but none of the drawbacks of being a minority. To ease her guilt feelings about her neglect of her Hispanic heritage, she travels to Mexico to “Mexify” herself, living in a crude but clean house, and going to Spanish language school down the street. Her friend Fabian scrubs the house and floors every few days, because, he says, “the country is in chaos, wages are slashed at random, jobs are lost without notice or severance pay, crime is skyrocketing, and corruption is rampant. Our home is the only thing we can control in our life. We like it LIMPIA (clean).

From Mexico City to Querefaro, Guadalajara, Morelos, Chiapas, San Cristobal and her ancestral village of Cruillos, Stephanie Griest explores the native land of her mother and shares with the reader the charms and corruptions she directly experiences in Mexico. She wonders if she will “ever be Mexican enough.” Concluding that because she is biracial she will “never be truly Mexican,” she decides that it is time to embrace each side of her heritage, “striving to believe that—whatever we are—it’s enough.”

In her thought-provoking book Mexican Enough Stephanie Elizondo Griest goes right to the core in her highly original descriptions of life between Hispanic and Anglo borderlines. Her informal, entertaining style conveys a sense of immediacy, clear, sometimes astonishing, insights into Mexican culture of the twenty-first century. With great pleasure we give her the PEN Texas 2009 Southwestern Literary Award for Nonfiction. Congratulations Stephanie Griest!

 

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