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School Board Bans Book From Sophomore Required Reading List

Bless Me, Ultima has been banned from the sophomore required reading list in central California.  The Newman Crows Landing Board of Education pulled the Chicano coming-of-age novel from high school classes based on the superintendent’s and trustees’ decision that the book contained too much profanity.

Review of the novel began last year in response to a parent’s complaint that the book was sexually explicit, voiced an anti-catholic bias, and included vulgar language.

“There was excessive vulgarity or profanity used throughout the book,” said school board superintendent Rick Fauss. “The context didn’t . . . make it acceptable.” Fauss insists that the book was banned solely because of profanity despite the parent’s other complaints.

The novel’s author, Rudolfo Anaya is outraged – “What are these people afraid of? We have ample evidence throughout history of what happens when we start banning books, when we are afraid of ideas and discussion and analytical thinking. The society will suffer.” English teachers, some parents, and the ACLU share Anaya’s anger.

Bless Me, Ultima has been removed from classrooms throughout the United States, including other regions in California, New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas.  The book was also number 75 on the American Library Association’s list of top banned books in the 1990’s.

While no longer on the required reading list, the book will remain in libraries.  The school library in Newton actually has a waiting list for the book as students are now eager to read it.

Despite the controversy surrounding the book, Bless Me, Ultima is a highly-acclaimed piece of literature. It was featured in former First Lady Laura Bush’s must-read list and has been chosen by the National Endowment for the Arts as part of its “Big Read” program.

For 22 years the book was only available through a small-publisher but still sold 300,000 through word-of-mouth and was honored with the Premio Quinto Sol for excellence in Chicano literature. When the novel was finally picked up by a major publisher in 1994, the mass-market edition met rave reviews. (The First Edition copies are now quite collectible.)

Originally published in 1972, Bless Me, Ultima tells the story of a young boy, Antonio Marez,  growing up in New Mexico during the 1940’s.  Antonio’s family is joined by Ultima, a curandera, who heals with herbs and magic.  It’s under the guidance of Ultima that Antonio examines his family background in the Catholicism of Latin America, magical secrets of a pagan past and his family ties.

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