Born and raised in Chicago, Castillo credits the rich storytelling tradition of her Mexican heritage as the foundation for her writing. When she was nine years old, she wrote her first poems following the death of her grandmother. In high school and college Castillo was active in the Chicano movement, using poetry to express her political sentiments. Her first published volumes of verse—Otro canto (1977), The Invitation (1979), and Women Are Not Roses (1984)—“examine the themes of sadness and loneliness in the female experience,” according to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Patricia De la Fuente. Castillo’s Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma (1994; reprinted 2014),based on her doctoral work at the University of Bremen, likewise explores the Chicana experience and the historical and social implications of Chicana feminism. It is a “provocative” collection, according to Marjorie Agosin in the Multicultural Review, and the work of a writer both “lyrical and passionate,” and “one of the country’s most provocative and original.” Castillo has continued to write both poetry and prose that engage with the politics of identity, nation, and religion, notably in the anthology Goddess of the Americas: Writings on the Virgin of Guadalupe (1996), a collection of writings about the patron saint of Mexico that Castillo edited because “what we could call the feminine principle is too absent from—is too denigrated by—Western society,” as she noted in a Publishers Weekly interview. Castillo’s other collections of essays include My Mother’s Mexican: New and Collected Essays (2015).
Castillo’s poetry, like her critical prose, explores the political and ethical implications of personal experience. Her later collections include My Father was a Toltec: and Selected Poems (1995), I Ask the Impossible (2001), and Watercolor Women/Opaque Men: A Novel in Verse (2005). Frequently blending Spanish and English, and working in genres like the verse novel, Castillo invents and innovates forms while continuing to work the vein of protest and solidarity poetry she began her career writing. As Jane Juffer has noted, Castillo “has used her poetry, fiction, and essays to help define an oppositional Chicana feminism. The meaning of ‘oppositional,’ however, has been contested and conflicted, and Castillo's work testifies to this struggle. Among the many issues to consider in the intersections of Chicana art and activism, we might focus on two that are central to Castillo's work. First, how does one retain the specificity of Chicana experience while making connections to other Latino/a and other women's issues? Second, how can writers who define themselves through their marginality move into the mainstream publishing world without losing their radical edge?”
Castillo began moving into that “mainstream publishing world” as a writer of fiction. Her first novel, The Mixquiahuala Letters (1986; reprinted 1992), won the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. The novel was described by De la Fuente as “a far-ranging social and cultural expose.” Through the device of letters exchanged over a ten-year period between Teresa, a California poet, and her college friend Alicia, a New York artist, The Mixquiahuala Letters explores the changing role of Hispanic women in the United States and Mexico during the 1970s and 1980s and the negative reaction many conservative Hispanic and Anglo men felt toward their liberation. Castillo creates three possible versions of Teresa and Alicia’s story—”Conformist,” “Cynic,” and “Quixotic”—by numbering the letters and supplying varying orders in which to read them, each with a different tone and resolution. Other early novels include Sapogonia: An Anti-Romance in 3/8 Meter (1994) and So Far from God (1994). The first of her novels to be widely read and reviewed, So Far from God was linked, notably by Barbara Kingsolver in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, to magical realism, the genre frequently identified with prominent South American writers Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, and others. Yet the book also earned praise for its ability to riff on telenovela traditions. Castillo’s works of fiction include the short story collection Loverboys (1996) and the later novels Peel My Love Like an Onion (2000), nominated for the Dublin Prize, The Guardians (2007), which was named a best book of the year by the Chicago Tribune, and Give it to Me (2014).
As an editor, Castillo has been instrumental in publishing voices from the Latina and Chicana community. In addition to her stewardship of La Tolteca, she has edited or helped edit collections such as The Sexuality of Latinas (1993), Recent Chicano Poetry: Neueste Chicano-Lyrik (1994), and Goddess of the Americas (1996). Castillo’s other books include the children’s book My Daughter, My Son, The Eagle, The Dove (2000), which was an Americas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature Commended Title, and the plays Psst…: I Have Something to Tell You, Mi Amor (2005).
Castillo’s numerous honors and awards include the Sor Juana Achievement Award from the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum in Chicago, the Carl Sandburg Award, a Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award, and fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in both fiction and poetry. She was the first Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Endowed Chair at DePaul University and has been the Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Visiting Scholar at MI. as well as poet-in-residence at Westminster College in Utah. In 2013 she received the American Studies Association Gloria Anzaldúa Prize, and in 2014 she held the Lund-Gil Endowed Chair at Dominican University in Illinois.
- Zero Makes Me Hungry, Scott, Foresman (Chicago), 1975.
- i close my eyes (to see), Washington State University Press (Pullman, WA), 1976.
- Otro canto, Alternativa Publications (Chicago, IL), 1977.
- The Invitation, privately printed, 1979, revised edition, La Raza (San Francisco, CA), 1986.
- Women Are Not Roses, Arte Público (Houston, TX), 1984.
- My Father Was a Toltec: Poems, West End Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1988, published as My Father Was a Toltec and Selected Poems 1973-1988, Norton (New York, NY), 1995.
- I Ask the Impossible, Random House (New York, NY), 2001.
- Watercolor Women/Opaque Men: A Novel in Verse, Curbstone Books (Evanston, IL), 2005.
- The Mixquiahuala Letters (novel), Bilingual Press (Binghamton, NY), 1986.
- Sapogonia: An Anti-Romance in 3/8 Meter (novel), Bilingual Press (Tempe, AZ), 1990.
- So Far from God (novel), Norton (New York, NY), 1993.
- Loverboys (stories), W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1996.
- Peel My Love Like an Onion (novel), Bantam Doubleday Dell (New York, NY), 1999.
- The Guardians, Random House, 2008.
- Give It To Me, The Feminist Press (New York, NY), 2014.
- Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1994, revised and reissued 2014.
- My Mother’s Mexico: New and Collected Essays, The Feminist Press, 2015.
- Clark Street Counts (play), produced 1983.
- Psst…: I Have Something to Tell You, Mi Amor: Two Plays, Wings Press (San Antonio, TX), 2005.
- Victoria Miranda and Camilo Fanion, On the Edge of a Countryless Weariness/Al filo de un cansancio apatricia, ISM Press (San Francisco, CA), 1986.
- (Editor, with Cherie Moraga) This Bridge Called My Back, ISM Press (San Francisco, CA), 1988, Spanish translation by Castillo and Norma Alarcon published as Este puente, mi espalda: Voces de mujeres tercermundistas en los Estados Unidos, 1988.
- (Editor, with Norma Alarcon and Cherie Moraga) The Sexuality of Latinas, Third Woman Press (Berkeley, CA), 1993.
- (Editor, with Heiner Bus) Recent Chicago Poetry, University of Bamberg (Bamberg, Germany), 1994.
- (Editor) Goddess of the Americas: Writings on the Virgin of Guadalupe, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1996.
- My Daughter, My Son, the Eagle, the Dove, Dutton Children’s Books
(New York, NY), 2000.
Contributor to anthologies, including The Third Woman: Minority Woman Writers of the United States, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1980; Cuentos Chicanos, University of New Mexico Press, 1984; Nosotras: Latina Literature Today, Bilingual Press (Binghamton, NY), 1986; English con Salsa, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1994; More Light: Father and Daughter Poems, Harcourt, Brace (New York, NY), 1994; Daughter of the Fifth Sun, Riverhead Books, 1995; Latinas, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995; and Tasting Life Twice, Avon (New York, NY), 1995. Contributor to periodicals, including Essence, Frontiers, Letras Femininas, Los Angeles Times, Maize, Nation, Prairie Schooner, Revista Chicano-Riqueña, River Styx, San Francisco Chronicle, Spoon River Quarterly, and Washington Post.
Castillo’s papers are housed at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
- Benito, Jesus, and Anna Maria Manzanas, editors, Literature and Ethnicity in the Cultural Borderlands, Rodopi (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 2002.
- Binder, Wolfgang, editor, Contemporary Chicano Poetry II: Partial Autobiographies: Interviews with Twenty Chicano Poets, Palm & Enke (Erlangen, Germany), 1985.
- Bower, Anne, Epistolary Reponses: The Letter in Twentieth-Century American Fiction and Criticism, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 1997.
- Brown-Guillory, Elizabeth, editor, Women of Color: Mother-Daughter Relationships in Twentieth-Century Literature, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1996.
- Calderón, Héctor, and José David Saldóvar, editors, Criticism in the Borderlands: Studies in Chicano Literature, Culture, and Ideology, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1991.
- Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 122: Chicano Writers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
- Fernandez, Roberta, editor, In Other Words: Literature by Latinas of the United States, Arte Público Press (Houston, TX), 1994.
- Gaard, Greta, and Patrick D. Murphy, editors, Ecofeminist Literary Criticism: Theory, Interpretation, Pedagogy, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1998.
- Georgoudaki, Ekaterini, and Domna Pastourmatzi, editors, Women, Creators of Culture, Hellenic Association of American Studies (Thessalonika, Greece), 1997.
- Higonnet, Margaret R., and Joan Templeton, editors, Reconfigured Spheres: Feminist Explorations of Literary Space, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 1994.
- Horno-Delgado, Asuncion, and others, editors,Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writings and Critical Readings, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 1989.
- Navarro, Marta A., Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About, Third Woman Press (Berkeley, CA), 1991.
- Pilar Aquino, Maria, Daisy L. Machado, and Jeanette Rodriguez, editors, A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology: Religion and Justice, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 2002.
- Albuquerque Journal, October 6, 2000, interview with Castillo, p. 1.
- Américas, January-February, 2000, p. 48.
- Americas Review, spring, 1992, p. 65; fall-winter, 1993, p. 128; spring-summer 1994, p. 244.
- Austin American-Statesman, September 26, 1999, p. K6; October 25, 1999, p. E1; April 23, 2000, p. K6.
- Aztlan, fall, 1999, p. 73.
- Belles Lettres, spring, 1993, p. 19; fall, 1993, pp. 52-53.
- Bloomsbury Review, November-December, 1995, pp. 5, 13.
- Booklist, August, 1996, p. 1881; October 15, 1996, p. 381; August 19, 1999.
- Capital Times (Madison, WI), September 29, 2000, p. A7.
- Choice, May, 1987.
- College Literature, spring, 2002, p. 37.
- Commonweal, January 14, 1994, pp. 37-38; March 14, 1997, p. 24.
- Confluencia, fall, 1994, p. 67.
- Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), September 8, 2000, p. 7.
- Genre, spring-summer, 1999, p. 53.
- Hispania, May, 1988.
- Hispanic Journal, fall, 1998, p. 295.
- Houston Chronicle, November 21, 1999, p. 19.
- Idaho Statesman (Boise, ID), March 20, 1999, p. B1.
- Isle, summer, 1996, p. 67.
- Literary Review, fall, 1997, pp. 137.
- Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 16, 1993, pp. 1, 3; August 25, 1996, p. 8.
- MELUS, fall, 1997, p. 133; spring, 1998, pp. 65, 81; summer, 2000, pp. 63, 83.
- Mester, fall, 1991, p. 145.
- Midwest Modern Language Association, spring, 1997, p. 63.
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 8, 2001, p. 7.
- Modern Fiction Studies,, winter, 1998, p. 888.
- Ms, December, 1999-January, 2000, interview with Castillo.
- Multicultural Review, March, 1995, p. 69.
- Nation, June 7, 1993, pp. 772-773.
- New York Times Book Review, October 3, 1993, p. 22.
- Northwest Review, 2001, p. 124.
- NuCity (Albuquerque, NM), June 18-July 1, 1993, interview with Castillo.
- Poets and Writers, March-April, 2000, p. 32.
- Progressive, January, 1995, p. 41.
- Proteus, spring, 1999, p. 49.
- Publishers Weekly, July 8, 1996, p. 73; August 12, 1996, p. 59; October 14, 1996, p. 77; August 9, 1999.
- Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 1997, p. 201.
- Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses, November, 1998, p. 69.
- Revista de Literatura Mexicana Contemporánea, October, 1996-January, 1997, p. 38.
- Romance Languages Annual, 1998, p. 658.
- Sojourner, May, 1995, p. 16.
- South Central Review, , spring, 1999, interview with Castillo, p. 19.
- Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), October, 2000, p. F19.
- Style, fall, 1996, p. 462.
- Tampa Tribune, April 10, 1998, p. 2.
- Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), September 26, 1999, pp. 1, 3.
- Tucson Weekly, September 29, 1997.
- Washington Post, May 31, 1993, p. D6.
- Washington Post Book World, September 1, 1996, p. 6.
- Women's Review of Books, September 1989, p. 29; May 1997, p. 16.
- Ana Castillo Web site, http://www.anacastillo.com/ (March 15, 2004).
- CityBeat, http://www.citybeat.com/ ( June 28, 2001), review of I Ask the Impossible.
- Guide to the Papers of Ana Castillo, 1953-1990, http://cemaweb.library.ucsb.edu/ (March 15, 2004).
- Modern American Poetry, http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/ (March 15, 2004), "Ana Castillo."
- Pif Magazine, http://www.pifmagazine.com/ (March 15, 2004), Abby Arnold, review of Peel My Love Like an Onion.
- Planet Authority, http://188.8.131.52/ (1998), interview with Castillo.
- Voices from the Gaps Web site, http://voices.cla.umn.edu/ (March 16, 2004), "Ana Castillo."
- Women Writers, http://www.womenwriters.net/ (March 15, 2004).
Audio & PodcastsChicago Poetry Tour Podcast
Pilsen was a diverse neighborhood in Chicago long before anybody used the word “diversity.” Stuart Dybek and Ana Castillo read poems inspired by their childhoods there.