Cofer, Judith Ortiz 1952-
COFER, Judith Ortiz 1952-
PERSONAL: Born February 24, 1952, in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico; immigrated to United States, 1956; daughter of Jesus Lugo (in U.S. Navy) and Fanny (Morot) Ortiz; married Charles John Cofer (in business), November 13, 1971; children: Tanya. Education: Augusta College, B.A., 1974; Florida Atlantic University, M.A., 1977; attended Oxford University, 1977.
ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 938, Louisville, GA 30434. Office—Department of English and Creative Writing, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602. Agent—Berenice Hoffman Literary Agency, 215 West 75th St., New York, NY 10023. E-mail—[email protected] parallel.park.uga.edu.
CAREER: Bilingual teacher at public schools in Palm Beach County, FL, 1974-75; Broward Community College, Fort Lauderdale, FL, adjunct instructor in English, 1978-80, instructor in Spanish, 1979; University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, lecturer in English, 1980-84; University of Georgia, Athens, instructor in English, 1984-87, Georgia Center for Continuing Education, instructor in English, 1987-88; Macon College, Macon, GA, instructor in English, 1988-89; Mercer University College, Forsyth, GA, special programs coordinator, 1990; University of Georgia, Athens, associate professor of English and creative writing, 1992-99, Franklin Professor of English and creative writing, 1999—. Adjunct instructor at Palm Beach Junior College, 1978-80. Visiting professor at numerous colleges and universities, including University of Michigan, Arizona University, and University of Minnesota, Duluth. Conducts poetry workshops and gives poetry readings. Member of regular staff of International Conference on the Fantastic in Literature, 1979-82; member of literature panel of Fine Arts Council of Florida, 1982; member of administrative staff of Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, 1983 and 1984.
MEMBER: Poetry Society of America, Poets and Writers, Associated Writing Programs.
AWARDS, HONORS: Scholar of English-Speaking Union at Oxford University, 1977; fellow of Fine Arts Council of Florida, 1980; Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, scholar, 1981, John Atherton Scholar in Poetry, 1982; grant from Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, 1988, for Letters from a Caribbean Island; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry, 1989; Pulitzer Prize nomination, 1989, for The Line of the Sun; New York Public Library Outstanding Books of the Year, for The Line of the Sun and Silent Dancing; PEN/Martha Albrand Special Citation for Silent Dancing; Pushcart Prize for nonfiction, 1990; O. Henry Prize for short story, 1994; Anisfield Wolf Award in Race Relations, 1994, for The Latin Deli; America's Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature honorable mention, 1995, and Best Books of the Year citation, American Library Association (ALA), 1996, both for An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio; Pura Belpre medal, ALA REFORMA, 1996; Georgia Council for the Arts fellowship.
Latin Women Pray (chapbook), Florida Arts Gazette Press, 1980.
The Native Dancer (chapbook), Pteranodon Press, 1981.
Among the Ancestors (chapbook), Louisville News Press, 1981.
Latin Women Pray (three-act play), first produced in Atlanta at Georgia State University, 1984.
Peregrina (poems), Riverstone Press (Golden, CO), 1986.
Terms of Survival (poems), Arte Público Press (Houston, TX), 1987.
(With Roberto Durán and Gustavo Pérez Firmat) Triple Crown: Chicano, Puerto Rican and Cuban American Poetry (trilogy; contains Cofer's poetry collection Reaching for the Mainland), Bilingual Press (Tempe, AZ), 1987.
The Line of the Sun (novel), University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1989.
Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood (personal essays), Arte Público Press (Houston, TX), 1990.
The Latin Deli: Prose and Poetry, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1993.
An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio (young adult), Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1995.
The Year of Our Revolution: New and Selected Stories and Poems, Arte Público Press (Houston, TX), 1998.
(Editor, with Marilyn Kallet) Sleeping with One Eye Open: Women Writers and the Art of Survival, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1999.
Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 2000.
The Meaning of Consuelo, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (New York, NY), 2003.
(Editor and author of introduction) Riding Low on the Streets of Gold: Latino Literature for Young Adults, Arte Público Press (Houston, TX), 2003.
Also author of poetry collection Letters from a Caribbean Island. Has contributed to many written works, including Hispanics in the United States, Bilingual Review/Press, 1982; Woman of Her Word, Arte Público, 1983; The Heath Anthology of Modern American Literature, Heath, 1990; Pushcart Prize XV Anthology, Pushcart Press, 1990; Puerto Rican Writers at Home in the U.S.A., Open Hand, 1991; and Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing, Holt, 1991. Has also contributed poems to magazines, including Southern Humanities Review, Poem, Prairie Schooner, Apalachee Quarterly, Kansas Quarterly, and Kalliope. Poetry editor of Florida Arts Gazette, 1978-81; member of editorial board of Waves.
SIDELIGHTS: Judith Ortiz Cofer is a highly regarded poet, essayist, and novelist who has written extensively on the experience of being a Puerto Rican in the United States. Cofer was born in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, but raised and educated primarily in New Jersey. She grew up attempting to reconcile her parents' traditional values with her experiences stateside, eventually producing work that "focuses on the effect on Puerto Rican Americans of living in a world split between the island culture of their homeland and the teeming tenement life of the United States," to quote Marian C. Gonsior in the Dictionary of Hispanic Biography.
Cofer left Puerto Rico as a young child, when her father joined the U.S. Navy and was assigned to a post in the Brooklyn Naval Yard. The family lived in Paterson, New Jersey, but undertook extensive visits back to Puerto Rico whenever the father was sent to sea. Back in New Jersey, it was Cofer who learned English in order to help her Spanish-speaking mother run the household and make important decisions. In an interview for MELUS, the author spoke of reconciling the contradictions in her cultural identity: "I write in English, yet I write obsessively about my Puerto Rican experience…. That is how my psyche works. I am a composite of two worlds… I lived with … conflictive expectations: the pressures from my father to become very well versed in the English language and the Anglo customs, and from my mother not to forget where we came from. That is something that I deal with in my work all the time."
Trained to be a teacher, Cofer came to creative writing as a graduate student, when she began to craft poems in English about Latina women and their concerns. Her work began to appear in literary periodicals as well as chapbooks and collections by small presses. "I think poetry has made me more disciplined," Cofer observed in MELUS. "It taught me how to write, because to write a poem takes so much skill…. Poetry contains the essence of language. Every word weighs aton…. Poetry taught me about economizing in language and about the power of language. So I will never stop writing poetry."
Cofer once told CA: "The 'infinite variety' and power of language interest me. I never cease to experiment with it. As a native Puerto Rican, my first language was Spanish. It was a challenge, not only to learn English, but to master it enough to teach it and—the ultimate goal—to write poetry in it.
"My family is one of the main topics of my poetry; the ones left behind on the island of Puerto Rico, and the ones who came to the United States. In tracing their lives, I discover more about mine. The place of birth itself becomes a metaphor for the things we all must leave behind; the assimilation of a new culture is the coming into maturity by accepting the terms necessary for survival. My poetry is a study of this process of change, assimilation, and transformation."
Branching out from poetry, Cofer published a well-received novel, The Line of the Sun, in 1989, and an essay collection, Silent Dancing, in 1990. The Line of the Sun was applauded by New York Times Book Review contributor Roberto Marquez for the "vigorous elegance" of its language. Marquez called Cofer "a prose writer of evocatively lyrical authority, a novelist of historical compass and sensitivity." The first half of The Line of the Sun depicts the poor village of Salud, Puerto Rico, and introduces the characters Rafael Vivente and his wild brother-in-law, Guzman. Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Sonja Bolle noted that the author's eye for detail "brings alive the stifling and magical world of village life." The second part of the novel follows Rafael to Paterson, New Jersey, where his daughter Marisol, the story's narrator, grows up. Marisol's father encourages her to become wholly American, but her mother advises her to adopt the customs and values of Puerto Rico. Marisol learns about her heritage mainly through the stories told by her family, which often focus on her Uncle Guzman, the "demon child"; his arrival at her New Jersey home helps Marisol to balance the American and Puerto Rican aspects of her identity. Though Marquez criticized parts of the plot as contrived, he proclaimed Cofer as "a writer of authentic gifts, with a genuine and important story to tell." The Line of the Sun was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1989.
The title of Silent Dancing is derived from a home movie of Cofer's parents in their youth. The scene is a New Year's Eve party, and the revelers form a conga line in which each gets a moment of personal attention from the camera. The author uses the film clip as a launching place for a discussion of how her parents' generation—and hers—has responded to the challenge of living between cultures, not wholly comfortable in either.
This theme has been extended into Cofer's volume for young adults, An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio. Set in Paterson, New Jersey, the collection consists of stories about young expatriate Puerto Ricans who live in a tenement building. Horn Book contributor Nancy Vasilakis deemed the book "a milestone in multicultural publishing for children," noting: "The Caribbean flavor of the tales gives them their color and freshness, but the narratives have universal resonance in the vitality, the brashness, the self-centered hopefulness, and the angst expressed by the teens as they tell of friendships formed, romances failed, and worries over work, family, and school." In a different Horn Book review, Rudine Sims Bishop wrote of An Island Like You: "There is humor, and poignancy as well. The voices in these stories ring true, as do the stories themselves. I hope Cofer continues to write for young people." A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded: "This fine collection may draw special attention for its depictions of an ethnic group underserved by YA writers, but Cofer's strong writing warrants a close look no matter what the topic."
Cofer continued her description of life in the barrio in her 1998 book, The Year of the Revolution: New and Selected Stories and Poems. Most of the stories in this collection are told from the perspective of Mary Ellen (Maria Elentia), as she grows up in the barrio during the 1960s. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that "Cofer further heightens her descriptions of barrio life with a pervasive current of sensuality and rebellion." As Mary Ellen works her way through a mixture of Hispanic and American lifestyles, the reviewer continued, "Readers will likely relate to Mary Ellen's struggle for independence, her idealism and her need for answers."
In Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer, Cofer recounts how she became a writer. The mixture of Puerto Rican and American cultures that she grew up with and her love of language contribute to her inspiration to write. "Cofer writes with conviction and power, encouraging all who aspire to writing or creative endeavor to pursue their dream with energy and dedication," wrote Nancy Ives in Library Journal.
Sleeping with One Eye Open: Women Writers and the Art of Survival, edited with Marilyn Kallet, is a collection of essays about women writers and writing. The book discusses the many obstacles women writers face, including finding the time to write without interference, searching for inspiration, and the influence of one's world on one's writing. "Quite simply, it suggests that we all need to take time for ourselves," concluded Heather Lee Schroeder on The Capital Times Web site.
Cofer's second novel, The Meaning of Consuelo, released in 2003, is the story of Consuelo, a girl who lives in the suburbs of San Juan in the 1950s. Consuelo's life is anything but normal—her parents' marriage is falling apart, her sister is developing schizophrenia, and her favorite cousin has moved away. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that while these "deeper elements" of the plot "lack originality and are plagued by an overabundance of foreshadowing," the novel "is richly descriptive of the shifting mores of Puerto Rican culture and the historical particularities of the era (especially the growing American presence on the Caribbean island)."
Cofer successfully combines her experiences growing up within a mixture of American and Puerto Rican cultures with her love of language to create essays, poetry, plays, and novels with universal themes. Carmen Faymonville observed in an essay for MELUS that Cofer "discovers a complex way to make sense of migrant identity by not exclusively rooting the 'self' in any one home or country." Instead, Cofer combines these two distinct identities and creates powerful, poignant stories about them. A writer for Contemporary Southern Writers noted, "Her blurring of traditional genres helps to explain both the realistic detail in her fiction and the interwoven plots and finely developed characters in her essays."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Women Writers, Volume 5, Continuum Publishing (New York, NY), 1994.
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 30, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Cofer, Judith Ortiz, Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood, Arte Público Press (Houston, TX), 1990.
Contemporary Hispanic Biography, Volume 3, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2003.
Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996, pp. 235-236.
Iftekharuddin, Farhat, Mary Rohrberger, and Maurice Lee, editors, Speaking of the Short Story: Interview with Contemporary Writers, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1997.
Notable Hispanic American Women, Book 2, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1995.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Acraa, Volume 18, 1993, Genevieve Fabre, "Liminality, In-Betweeness and Indeterminacy: Notes toward an Anthropological Reading of Judith Ortiz Cofer's The Line of the Sun."
Americas Review, winter, 1991, Juan Bruce-Novoa, "Judith Ortiz Cofer's Rituals of Movement"; fall-winter, 1994, Rafael Ocasio, "An Interview with Judith Ortiz Cofer," pp. 84-90.
Booklist, November 15, 1993, Whitney Scott, review of The Latin Deli: Prose and Poetry, p. 609; February 15, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio, p. 1082; July 19, 1998, Debbie Carton, review of The Year of Our Revolution: New and Selected Stories and Poems, p. 1870; May 15, 1999, review of Bailando en silencio (Silent Dancing), p. 1685.
Book Report, March, 1999, review of The Year of Our Revolution, p. 79.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1995, p. 267.
Callaloo, summer, 1994, Rafael Ocasio, "The Infinite Variety of the Puerto Rican Reality: An Interview with Judith Ortiz Cofer."
Children's Literature Association Quarterly, spring, 1993, Lucille H. Gregory, "The Puerto Rican 'Rainbow': Distortions vs. Complexities."
Georgia Review, spring-summer, 1990, pp. 51-59.
Horn Book, July-August, 1995, pp. 464-465; September-October, 1995, Rudine Sims Bishop, "Books from Parallel Cultures: Growing Up Is Hard to Do," review of An Island Like You, pp. 581-583.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1993, review of The Latin Deli; June 15, 1998, p. 892.
Kliatt, September, 1991, p. 5; September, 1996, p. 3; March, 2001, review of Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer, p. 28.
Library Journal, May 15, 1989, Starr E. Smith, review of The Line of the Sun, p. 88; July 1990, Mary Margaret Benson, review of Silent Dancing, pp. 96-97; November 1, 1993, p. 93; February 15, 1996, review of Reaching for the Mainland, p. 154; July, 1998, p. 76; September 1, 2000, Nancy R. Ives, review of Woman in Front of the Sun, p. 206.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 6, 1989, Sonja Bolle, review of The Line of the Sun, p. 6.
MELUS, fall, 1993, pp. 83-97; fall, 1997, Kenneth Wishnia, review of The Latin Deli, pp. 206-208; summer, 2001, Carmen Faymonville, "New Transnational Identities in Judith Ortiz Cofer's Autobiographical Fiction," p. 129.
New York Times Book Review, September 24, 1989, Roberto Marquez, "Island Heritage," pp. 46-47.
Prairie Schooner, winter, 1994, Marilyn Kallet, "The Art of Not Forgetting: An Interview with Judith Ortiz Cofer."
Publishers Weekly, April 28, 1989, review of The Line of the Sun, p. 61; June 8, 1990, review of Silent Dancing, p. 609; November 8, 1993, review of The Latin Deli, p. 60; April 10, 1995, p. 60; April 17, 1995, review of An Island Like You, p. 61; December 2, 1996, p. 62; July 27, 1998, review of The Year of the Revolution, p. 78; August 11, 2003, review of The Meaning of Consuelo, p. 252.
School Library Journal, July, 1995, Lauren Mayer, review of An Island Like You, pp. 92-93.
Social Politics, summer, 1996, Suzanne Oboler, "Narratives of National (Be)longing: Citizenship, Race, and the Creation of Latinas—Ethnicities in Exile in the United States."
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1995, p. 155; June, 1999, review of The Year of Our Revolution, p. 112.
Wilson Library Journal, October, 1989, Ellen Donohue Warwick, review of The Line of the Sun, p. 123.
Women's Review of Books, December, 1990, p. 9.
Capital Times Online (Madison, WI), http://www.madison.com/captimes/ (November 10, 2003), Heather Lee Schroeder, "Lit.: On Recharging, Musing, Writing."
ChelseaForum, http://www.chelseaforum.com/ (November 10, 2003), "Judith Ortiz Cofer."
Online Athens, http://www.onlineathens.com/ (November 10, 2003), "Athens Author Judith Ortiz Cofer Celebrates Her Multicultural Heritage."
University of Georgia Web site, http://parallel.park.uga.edu/ (November 10, 2003), "Judith Ortiz Cofer."*