MIGUEL MéNDEZ | 1930-2013

Tucson author, a literary prodigy, dies

2013-06-07T00:00:00Z Tucson author, a literary prodigy, diesJoseph Treviño Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Miguel Méndez, considered by critics as a true man of letters, a Sonoran by heart, a Tucson resident by choice and a prominent figure in the pantheon of Chicano literature, died last week.

He was 82.

His wife, María Dolores, and his two children, Miguel Méndez Jr. and Isabel Cristina Romero, survive him. His funeral services are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. today at St. Augustine Cathedral.

Méndez, who died May 31 at his Tucson home, was nominated once for the Nobel Prize in Literature and for the Prince of Asturias Awards for Letters, considered the highest artistic honor bestowed by the Spanish royal family. He was recognized for his prodigious old-school, patrician style of writing, mixed with everyday border Spanish.

Méndez wrote around 40 novels and essays - all in Spanish - including "Pilgrims in Aztlán," about a Mexican town.

His remains will be buried Wednesday in El Claro, the small town in Sonora where he grew up, said Méndez Jr.

He was born in Bisbee in 1930. Shortly after his birth, his parents, in the midst of an anti-immigrant backlash during the Great Depression, were among the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and U.S.-born Mexican-Americans forced by the government to go to Mexico. By the age of 16, Méndez had moved to Tucson to work as a bricklayer.

Armed only with a fifth-grade education obtained in Mexico, Méndez would tirelessly read the classics of world literature, said Adalberto Guerrero, his cousin and a former University of Arizona professor.

"I was very stubborn. I would stay up late at night reading and writing," Méndez told the Star in 2008.

A prodigy and a self-made person, Méndez toiled for decades as a construction worker before the then nascent Pima Community College offered him a job as a literature professor, Guerrero said. Méndez later taught at the UA, which awarded him a doctorate of humane letters in 1984.

Méndez worked for five years at night on his masterpiece, "Pilgrims in Aztlán." Using an Underwood typewriter, his wife typed his handwritten notes, Guerrero said.

Guerrero said future generations will benefit from Méndez's writings.

"It will be the students of the future who will recognize Miguel's works."

Contact reporter Joseph Treviño at jtrevino@azstarnet.com or 807-8029.

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