Martinez, Eliud 1935-
MARTINEZ, Eliud 1935-
PERSONAL: Born January 21, 1935, in Pflugerville, TX; son of Estroberto and Maria (Correa) Martinez; married Elisse Weintraub, December 25, 1965; children: Laura, Tanya. Ethnicity: "Hispanic Ameri-can." Education: University of Texas—Austin, B.F.A., 1959; graduate study at Universidad Autónoma de México, 1960–61; Ohio University, Ph.D., 1972.
CAREER: Writer and artist. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, teaching assistant in art history, 1962–63; University of California, Riverside, teacher of comparative literature, 1972–95, professor emeritus, 1995–, teacher of creative writing, 1990–, coordinator of comparative literature program, 1975–77, 1987, chair of Chicano studies, 1983–85. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, 1953–56; served in Japan.
AWARDS, HONORS: E.D. Farmer International Scholarship, 1961–62; UC-MEXUS Creative Activities Grant, 1990.
The Art of Mariano Azuela: Modernism in La malhora, El desquite, La luciernaga, American Literary Review Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1980.
Voice-Haunted Journey (novel), Bilingual Press (Tempe, AZ), 1990.
Also contributor to anthologies and literary periodicals.
SIDELIGHTS: Eliud Martinez is the eldest of six children. When he was four years old, his family moved from Pflugerville, Texas, to the Mexican barrio of East Austin, where his father worked in construction. Although his parents had little education, they encouraged Martinez and his siblings to become educated and get professional jobs, despite the barriers of class and racial segregation that restricted most people of Mexican descent.
Martinez attended a grade school where most of the children were Mexican, and recalled many years later that he was very eager to learn. Although he did not speak English when he began school, he learned quickly, and three years later, his teacher recommended that he be transferred to a better school. In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Roberto Cantu wrote that at this time, Martinez was already displaying "signs of an aesthetic sensibility and a marked academic inclination." Cantu also wrote that Martinez's change of schools "began the journey that would take Martinez away from home and around the world (through his readings and actual travels) and, ultimately, home again."
Martinez and his sister Belia did well in school. But family difficulties may have led to guilt, expressed through the main character in Martinez's autobiographical Voice-Haunted Journey; Martinez describes him by saying, "Miguel is troubled by thoughts of remorse and by a sense of guilt, which have beset him for many years, about not having been a good husband or a good father, son, brother or friend to others."
Martinez's interest in art, encouraged by his grandfather Eusebio Martinez-Ortiz, began when he was a child. His grandfather was a former cavalry soldier who had fought in the Mexican revolution. When Martinez's family visited, he would ask Martinez to draw soldiers for him. This repeated encouragement led Martinez to discover that he had a talent for art, and he went into art before he became a writer. Between 1963 and 1980, Martinez had nine exhibitions of his art, including three solo shows. In 1965, he won a first prize at the Juilliard School in New York City, and in 1969 he won second prize in 1969 at the Allentown Art Festival in Buffalo, New York.
Martinez attended the University of Texas—Austin for one year, majoring in studio arts, then left school and joined the Marine Corps. He served in Japan and Hawaii for nearly two years, then returned home and completed his studies at the university, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting, with a minor in art history and criticism. While at the university, he worked with Dr. Donald L. Weismann, who encouraged him to pursue a Ph.D., a goal that was considered too high for most Mexican-Americans.
Martinez was also involved in a very different, but also life-changing, encounter while at school. At the time, legislators in Texas were attempting to root out atheism in education by making all university faculty sign an oath that they believed in a supreme being. Martinez and his friends planned a protest against this, in which Martinez would play Christ, dressed in a white loincloth and a mesquite "crown of thorns." His friends eventually backed out, but Martinez went ahead with the protest on his own, despite threats from administrators that he would be expelled. According to Cantu, photographs from the Fort Worth Star Telegram, which covered the protest, show "an ironic, self-assured, twenty-four-year-old Mexican with a generous crop of curly black hair, a full beard and hairy chest—more of a Dionysius than a Christ—surrounded by hundreds of Anglo faces … betraying their amazement and disbelief."
According to Cantu, Martinez later recalled that this event was "one of the beautiful things that happened in my life." He received many letters supporting his action, met with state legislators, and, in the wake of his new notoriety, was encouraged to apply for an E.D. Farmer International Scholarship by Dr. Eastin Nelson, the director of the Latin American Studies Institute of the university. He received the scholarship, and went to the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, where he studied history and criticism of Mexican art with highly regarded professors. He also studied the culture of the Nahuatl, one of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. He was fascinated with Mexican culture and, as Cantu noted, "In this trip to Mexico, Martinez became Mexican by the power of his will, imagination, and his extensive studies." He moved to the University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign in 1962 to accept a teaching assistantship in art history, but soon discovered that the program was too narrow and specialized to suit him. He dropped out of school and lived for a while in Chicago and then New York, living what Cantu called "an intensely dissolute and bohemian life." In New York, he met Elisse Weintraub; the two were married on December 25, 1965, and eventually had two daughters, Laura and Tanya.
During his time in Chicago and New York, Martinez remained in contact with his mentor, Dr. Weismann, writing him as often as three times a week. These letters eventually evolved into the notebooks that would become Voice-Haunted Journey. In 1969, he entered Ohio University—Athens and earned a doctorate in English and comparative literature in 1975. Although he had achieved his goal, he was still undecided about his creative future, and began to consider writing novels. In 1972, he began teaching at the University of California at Riverside.
Martinez's old dream of writing a novel had not gone away, and when his brother Teodoro died at the age of thirty-five in 1971, the loss spurred him to begin writing Voice-Haunted Journey, described by Cantu as "a narrative constituted by the thematic threads made up of art, ancestry, and fate." The book is about the relationship between a middle-aged Chicano professor and artist and his grandfather, who looks like him, has the same name, and also wrote, but who fought in the Mexican Revolution. Although the grandson is educated, he feels he is a failure, and looks up to his soldier grandfather. Cantu wrote, "Martinez's masterful handling of narrative techniques, sophisticated characterization, and interdisciplinary breadth—with its numerous references, allusions and extended meditations on painting, film, and literature—is intellectually gratifying and a veritable quarry for literary critics who enjoy hermetic narratives."
In 1980, Martinez decided to devote most of his creative energy to "autobiographical fiction," and to working on two other novels which, when completed, will form a trilogy with Voice-Haunted Journey. When complete, the trilogy, titled "The Notebooks of Miguel Velasquez," will be dedicated to Martinez's mentor, Dr. Weismann.
Martinez once told CA: "An introspective person, I have been keeping notebooks regularly since I was twenty-five. I used to write and receive long letters from my father, my sister, brothers, and friends; and especially from Donald L. Weisman, true maestro and friend of more than four decades. He and I still write and speak on the telephone regularly." (Later Martinez added: "On October 12, 2004, I was present at his ninetieth birthday celebration.)
"A highly active memory compels me to write, to express thoughts and feelings, to respond to people and events in my life, to understand human life in its richness and varieties. My writing springs also from a love of family and a fascination with ancestry. I marvel at the magic of heredity, when I see a strong family resemblance across two, especially three or more generations. To me, it is a biological miracle that out of an infinite number of possible genetic configurations in a family the identical constellation of genes and chromosomes can recur and make a grandmother, her daughter and a granddaughter one and the same woman, in appearance and temperament.
"I re-read Poe's short stories and essays at the age of twenty-eight. From his works I discovered that I had been born with a 'mind's eye of analysis,' without be-ing aware of it as a literary and an artistic predilection. In the same year I read Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet and saw the Fellini film, 8 1/2. Twenty years later, the film bore fruit. My novel Voice-Haunted Journey is my creative response to 8 1/2, The Death of Artemio Cruz, Hour of the Wolf, Under the Volcano, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Steppenwolf, Notes from Underground, and The Confessions of St. Augustine.
"In my late twenties and early thirties, during the years when I was a graduate student dropout, I read novels, plays, biographies, and books on many subjects, especially philosophy and historiography. I was born with a voracious curiosity and eagerness to learn. Books and people have always come into my life, happily by accident, as if some benevolent and protective spirit were watching over me. Philosophical writers who have explored the nature of ideas, how we think and formulate our thoughts and concepts, led me to read books that deal with how history is written and re-written continuously. Weismann pointed me to William James and Ortega y Gasset when I was an undergraduate student. They are major influences in my intellectual formation.
"In addition to my interest in international arts and letters I am fascinated by cemeteries and by the quiet, unrecorded lives of ordinary people that are factually circumscribed by dates of birth and death. What sorrows and tragedy did they know in their lives, what joys and satisfaction?
"I am fascinated by the wisdom of unlettered people like my mother and father. I cherish their marvelous storytelling gifts. I value highly the natural intelligence of people like them. The 'Notebooks' trilogy tells the story of five generations of a Mexican family in the United States. My father was a natural-born storyteller. I have learned much about how to tell stories and to write from my father, a man with a third-grade education. My mother never had the opportunity to learn to read and write. She taught me not to take education for granted. When she died the biggest regret of her life was never having learned to read and write.
"The controversy over the Columbus Quincentenary in 1992 led me to the following thought: Our ancestors make us what we are. Human beings pick and select their ancestors at their own risk. I believe that we cannot do that any more than we can pick and select our mothers and fathers. It is true that some of our ancestors scorned and denied us as their progeny. It is idle to deny the ancestors whose faces we see when we contemplate our own faces in the mirror.
"This is a central theme of all my writing: History has taught me that race classifications are false and unreliable. There is only one human race. The majority of human beings are people of multiple ancestries; they are not biracial or multi-racial or multi-ethnic. Increasingly in the new millenium Americans will be people of multiple ancestries.
"I dedicate my projected trilogy 'The Notebooks of Miguel Velasquez,' to Donald L. Weismann with deepest gratitude. He is the major influence on my creative, intellectual, spiritual, and professional formation since my undergraduate days. He opened up to me the world of arts and letters when I was twenty-one years old. From Weismann I learned that art cannot be separated from life, and that no experience—no matter how painful, sorrowful, ill-fated, sad or tragic—is ever lost on the artist. From him I learned to appreciate artists who are visionaries, often out of step with society, eccentric, bizarre, introspective, and philosophical. Artists turn their failures and shortcomings, their guilt and remorse, into art." He added later: "Fiction is telling truths with lies.
"Hispanic, Latino, Chicano literature—whichever term is preferred—has a long tradition in the Americas. An essay by Alejo Carpentier opened my eyes to countless parallels between Latin American literature and our own literature by Americans of Mexican ancestry. The varieties of our Mexican experience—our contextos—in the United States are demonstratively a continuation of the Latin American experience since the Conquest. Our millenary origins antedate that event, and our Chicano, Latino, Hispanic experience is also a significant part of the American immigrant experience. Our literary expression occupies a place within our American national literature, and among the literatures of the world."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 122: Chicano Writers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.