National Endowment of the Arts - The Big Read
Bless Me, Ultima

Bless Me, Ultima

by Rudolfo Anaya

A novel is not written to explain a culture, it creates its own.


Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities may be linked to other Big Read community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, a student assembly, or a bookstore.

  1. Research the history of New Mexico, with special attention to the movement of various peoples in and out of the state. Create a multimedia (text, images, music) presentation of this history to display in a library or town hall.
  2. Identify and research the attraction of New Mexico to various artists, including Anaya, D.H. Lawrence, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Prepare posters that present their lives and works in the context of their time in New Mexico, and have students create paintings or stories that imitate the style of these artists or writers. Hold a sidewalk art fair and invite the community.
  3. Identify some of the representations of Mexican-Americans today, both in the national media and in your community. Have groups of students each select one of these representations and prepare a short speech discussing the explicit and implicit messages about Mexican-Americans conveyed by this reference, and then invite the community to a town meeting where the students give their presentations and lead a discussion about contemporary attitudes toward Latinos in local and national culture.
  4. Have the students write a play or scene that addresses some aspect of religious or spiritual conflict they see at work today, either globally or locally. Have them perform the scene or play for the community, and then lead a discussion about the various roles religion and spirituality play for them.
  5. Have students research some of the herbs and plants mentioned in the novel, both as features of the New Mexican landscape and as elements of traditional healing methods. Students can present their findings as a poster session, open to the community. If possible, introduce a local healer or shaman to the class and invite that person to give a talk at the poster session about contemporary natural healers.
  6. Reread the myth of the Golden Carp that Samuel tells Antonio in Chapter Nueve, and the prophecy that Cico tells Antonio in Chapter Once. The power of the myth and Antonio’s vision of the Golden Carp force him to question his faith in the singular God of Catholicism. Write your own myth about an event of breathtaking beauty. Focus on your skills of descriptive writing to make your reader believe that this phenomenon could really be divine. What is the backstory that explains this beautiful event? Does the story address any issues of sin, justice, fear, punishment, or redemption? Share the myths with a senior group or a local book club.
  7. Write a short story set in the future, after Antonio has become an adult. Imagine who Antonio is at that time and how he would react to circumstances. Is he a priest, a farmer, a writer, a healer, a soldier, or something else? Where does he live? Use flashbacks and memories that recall the time of the novel to help explain why you think this future is right for him. Present the stories at a local Big Read event.
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