Banned


I enjoy photographing writers. More accurately, I love listening to writers as they discuss their work and their lives… and then I occasionally snap a photograph or two after the interview. This is a portrait of Rudolfo Anaya, a Mexican American writer from New Mexico. He writes both fiction and nonfiction and has written many books for children. Yesterday he was part of a story in the Los Angeles Times. His novel “Bless me, Ultima” was recently banned from Orestimba High School’s required reading list in Stanislaus County, California. A parent complained that among other things the book’s theme would “undermine the conservative family values in our homes” and that it was “anti-Catholic.” Never mind that the book has been part of the school’s curriculum for more than a decade. Other interesting points from the Los Angeles Times’ article: The book is a critically acclaimed piece of literature, is required reading in many English courses and was spotlighted on former First Lady Laura Bush’s must-read list.

There’s plenty of discussion going on various forums on the internet including at the site of the American Library Association, host of the “Banned Books Week.” But I will just say that I find it sadly interesting that books like “Bless me, Ultima” are banned while the mindless drivel that is on TV every night goes on.

The portrait session with Mr Anaya was short, probably about five minutes, and came at the end of a 45-minute interview. I set a chair in the middle of a long hallway near a bank of windows and made several standard mug shots with Mr. Anaya looking directly into the lens. I sometimes fiddle with my camera gear in the middle of a session to give myself a few seconds to think about what I might be able to do that would be different. When I glanced back up, Mr. Anaya was staring out of the window. I quickly brought the camera up and squeezed off a frame and captured the writer as I remembered him — a warm, quiet and thoughtful gentleman.

A month or so after the session I received a package in the mail containing a copy of “Bless me, Ultima” inscribed with a note of thanks and signed by the author.

Side note/shameless plug: Late last year, the University of Oklahoma Press requested permission to use this photo on the cover of a book of essays by Rudolfo Anaya. I feel it a great compliment that Mr. Anaya liked the photograph enough to consider it for the cover of one of his books. You can find it here.

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