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Shelf Life – Books by UNM Alumni

Jun 4, 2023 | Class News, Shelf Life, Spring 2023

Chino and the Dance of the Butterfly cover

Dana Tai Soon Burgess (’91 BUS) has pursued an impressive career in dance since founding the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company in Washington, D.C., in 1992. As a choreographer and arts administrator, he has acted as a cultural ambassador through dance and became the first choreographer-in-residence at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery. In his engaging memoir, Chino and the Dance of the Butterfly (University of New Mexico Press, 2022), Burgess traces his artistic evolution back to his upbringing in Carmel, Calif., and Santa Fe, exploring and navigating his multiple hyphenates – gay-biracial-Asian-American. Arriving in Santa Fe in the early 1970s, the family – an Anglo father, Korean-American mother and two boys – joined a handful of other Asian families. Burgess loved to dance and dress up in elaborate colorful costumes and high-heeled boots was bullied and was given the nickname Chino, or Chinese. His story offers fascinating insights into Santa Fe as it grew into an international destination and Burgess as he managed to stay true to his inner artist while beginning to understand his sexuality and have his first relationships with men.

Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light cover

Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light (W.W. Norton & Company, 2023) is the latest collection of poems from Joy Harjo (’76 BA), who recently ended an extended term as the nation’s poet laureate. Subtitled “50 Poems for 50 Years,” the collection is comprised of Harjo’s self-selected greatest hits. The poems trace her life, from a childhood in Oklahoma to school in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, relationships, children, current events, artistic success, personal gratitude and loss. (The 50 years are counted, incidentally, from when Harjo’s first poems were published in The Thunderbird, UNM’s student literary magazine.) With an introduction from best-selling author Sandra Cisneros, who was enrolled in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop with Harjo in the 1970s, and extensive end notes from Harjo that give the reader background about each poem, Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light serves as a perfect introduction to those who are just discovering Harjo’s voice and a priceless edition for her many fans.

James Silas Calhoun book cover

Embarking on a biography of an obscure figure is the path less chosen for obvious reasons: it’s harder to find information and where’s the audience for a book on someone few have heard of? Sherry Robinson (’83 BA, ’84 BA) perseveres through the challenges in James Silas Calhoun: First Governor of New Mexico Territory and First Indian Agent (University of New Mexico Press, 2021) to bring to life a self-made man who seemingly had his hand in every political and economic development in his native Georgia and then came west. He arrived in New Mexico in 1849, leaving his imprint on a young United States Territory and in the treaties he signed with tribes during his short stint as the territory’s first Indian agent. Picking up a biography of a relative unknown can bring a reader closer to points in history or even just add a new dimension to the human experience. As Robinson says in her introduction, she was intrigued at her first brush against his biography. “What jumped out was that he took a coffin with him on his last journey across the plains on the Santa Fe Trail. What kind of person does that?”

Running Dreams cover

Carlos R. Servan (’93 BA, ‘95 MPA, ’97 JD) thought his life was set when he was accepted into the officer school for the Peruvian Army. It was a coveted job that would help lift his family into a more comfortable life and allow him to fight the Maoist Shining Path rebel group. Days into his first patrol, Servan brushed against an object and picked it up – a planted explosive that detonated, blowing off his right hand and blinding him. Running Dreams (Atmosphere Press, 2022) tells the story of Servan’s childhood, his recovery from his life-changing injuries and the incredible life he went on to lead, immigrating to the United States, earning three degrees at UNM and becoming a nationally recognized leader in training and advocacy for the blind. It was not an easy journey. Servan had to learn two new languages – English and Braille – and overcome prejudice based on disability and ethnicity.

New Mexico's Moses cover

Reies Lopez Tijerina is widely known as the leader of the New Mexico land grant movement and the instigator of the bloody raid on the Rio Arriba County Courthouse in 1967. In New Mexico’s Moses, (University of New Mexico Press, 2022) historian Ramon A. Gutierrez (’73 BA) digs deeply into Tijerina’s life and offers a multi-dimensional portrait of a complicated man – one deeply rooted in Pentecostal faith while sinning in his marriages and preaching a gospel so apocalyptic that it was hard for him to find and maintain congregations. Turning his fervor to the injustices of the dispossessed heirs of Spanish and Mexican land grants, Tijerina found a civil rights movement where he could finally find a following and a purpose. At nearly 500 pages, including 200 pages of Tijerina’s religious philosophy, this is a deep dive into Tijerina’s background and thought, culminating with Tijerina’s arrest and imprisonment for his part in the courthouse raid.

El Feliz Ingenio Neomexicano

In 1924, journalist and author Felipe M. Chácon published a collection of poetry. What set the volume a place in history is that Chácon was the first Mexican American to have his poetry collection published in book form. Chácon, who lived in the Barelas neighborhood of Albuquerque and edited La Bandera Americana magazine, called his book Obras de Felipe Maximiliano Chácon, el Cantor Neomexicano:  Poesia Y prosa. In El feliz ingenio neomexicano: Felipe M. Chácon and Poesia y prosa (University of New Mexico Press, 2022) Gabriel Melendez (’76 BA, ’79 MA, ’84 PhD), distinguished professor at UNM, and Anna Nogar, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at UNM, translate Chácon’s work and interpret his place in history. His writings are presented in Spanish and translated to English. “El feliz ingenio neomexicano” translates to “lively New Mexican intellect” and Chácon does not disappoint.

Cuba's Nuclear Pinata cover

After receiving a PhD in economics, Ken Peters (’72 MA) spent his career traveling the world assisting foreign governments with health care policy, and in retirement is a visiting professor at the Stephen J. Green School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University. So, it’s no surprise that the novels he writes have an international flavor. In Cuba’s Nuclear Piñata (2021), the subtitle says it all: “Castro’s attempt to blackmail America with a stolen nuclear warhead.” With plot twists and double and triple crosses, the story involves politics, moonlit parachute jumps, gunfire and even a little romance as the reader wonders, Will Fidel actually follow through on detonating a nuclear warhead in New York City?

Closer to the Door cover

Hank Blackwell (’83 MPA) knows that living into ones 70s is a gift. But with the wisdom of the elder comes failings of body and mind and the louder drumbeat of the great mystery of death.

Blackwell’s Closer to the Door (Mercury HeartLink, 2022) is a collection of poems on aging. It follows Blackwell’s Silver Chain, which was published in 2021 and was a finalist in the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. Blackwell is a sensitive thinker and gentle poet. From Closer to the Door on hollyhocks and aging: “I cut the stalks/ dry and stiff/ pods fat with seeds. / They should return/ next spring./ Will I?” From Silver Chain on a grandchild: “I hold you like a poultice/upon my chest/breathing in your newborn breath/warm with innocence.”

Wood, Stone, Substance and Spirit cover

Rebecca Davis (’74 BA) and Roger Asay have been collaborating since 1982 on a body or work they call Wood & Stone, Substance & Spirit. Davis was a student of photography at UNM graduating. Asay was an instructor/lecturer in art at UNM in 1972 and 1973. In the introduction to their handsome collection of photographs WOOD & STONE, SUBSTANCE & SPIRIT: The Sculptural Collaboration of Rebecca Davis & Roger Asay (Natural History Institute, 2021) the artists describe their approach: “We gather the materials of nature, not to make them into something other than what they are, but rather to present them raw ­– to refine and sort, order and arrange them and give them back in a strange and clarified form that lets the view experience them directly as if for the first time.” The result, in more than 200 pages of photos, is nature dressed to the nines. From bundles of creosote or pinon branches ground into glistening balls to a pagoda or cut and dried elm pieces to stones arranged by shape and color, the museum pieces invite a new way to see the natural world.

The Rock Shall Dance cover

Peter Saxton Schroeder (’64 MSE) spent his first career in nuclear weapons testing, his second in international business. His third has been traveling the globe writing travel stories. The Rock Shall Dance (Richter Publishing 2021) tells the story of Schroeder’s early life – from rowing crew at Princeton to working at Sandia National Laboratories while pursuing a graduate degree in nuclear engineering at UNM. In midlife he went from successful international business manager to divorce to seeking the healing teachings of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in India. Not yet 40, he is diagnosed with multiple myeloma, survives, and opens his third chapter. Freelance Writing (Richter Publishing 2022) is Schroeder’s how-to guide to living the life he has led since pursuing travel writing. Filled with advice for anyone who loves travel, knows how to write, and would like to make a living combining the two passions, Schroeder focusses on how to travel for free with sponsorships or press trips.

Attention Published Alumni Authors:

We would like to add your book to the alumni library in Hodgin Hall and consider it for a review in Shelf Life.
Please send an autographed copy to:

Shelf Life, UNM Alumni Relations
1 UNM, MSC01-1160, Albuquerque, NM 87131

Spring 2023 Mirage Magazine Features


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