Santos-Febres, Mayra 1966–

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Santos-Febres, Mayra 1966–


Born 1966, in Puerto Rico. Education: University of Puerto Rico, B.A.; Cornell University, M.A., Ph.D., 1991.


University of Puerto Rico, assistant professor, 1990-2002, professor of literature, 2002—; visiting professor at Cornell University, 1994—, and Harvard University, 2004.


Evaristo Rivera Chevremont prize, Triptico (literary journal), 1991, for El orden escapado; Letras de Oro prize, 1991, for story collection Pez de vidrio; Letres de Oro, University of Miami and the Spanish Ministry for Exterior Affairs, Fondo Permanente para las Artes Experimenales and Fondo para el Quehacer Cultural fellowships, both from Puerto Rican Institute of Culture, and Belleza e Inteligencia award, Imagen Review, all 1994; fellowships from Puerto Rican Humanities Foundation and Puerto Rican Institute of Culture, 1995; Radio Sarandi Prize, Juan Rulfo International Story Competition, French International Radio, 1996, for "Oso Blanco."


Anamú y manigua, La Iguana Dorada (Río Piedras, Puerto Rico), 1991.

El orden escapado (poems; title means "Escaped Order"), Editorial Triptico (San Juan, Puerto Rico), 1991.

Pez de vidrio (short stories; contains "Oso Blanco"), Ediciones Huracan (Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico), 1995, translation by Nathan Budoff and Lydia Platon Lazaro published as Urban Oracles: Stories, Lumen Editions (Cambridge, MA), 1997.

(Compiler) Mal hablar: antología de nueva literatura Puertorriqueña, Puerto Rican Humanities Foundation, 1997.

El cuerpo correcto (short stories), R & R Editoras (San Juan, Puerto Rico), 1998.

Tercer mundo (poetry; title means "Third World"), Trilce (Mexico), 2000.

Sirena Serena vestida de peña, Mondadori (Barcelona, Spain), 2000, published as Sirena Selena, Picador (New York, NY), 2001.

(Translator, with Rafael Franco) Willie Perdomo, Postcards of El Barrio (bilingual edition), Isla Negra Editores (San Juan, Puerto Rico), 2002.

Cualquier miércoles soy tuya, Mondadori (Barcelona, Spain), 2002, translation by James Graham published as Any Wednesday I'm Yours, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Cuentos de oficio: Antología de cuentistas emergentes en Puerto Rico, Terranova Editores (Carolina, Puerto Rico), 2005.

Sobre piel y papel, Ediciones Callejon (San Juan, Puerto Rico), 2005.

Nuestra señora de la noche, Espasa (Madrid, Spain), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including P'gina doce, TeveGuia, El Nueva Día, El Centro, Biombo Negro, Revue Noire, Revista da Biblioteca Nacional de Brasil, Casa de las Americas, San Juan Star, and Latin American Journal of Arts and Literature.


Mayra Santos-Febres, a professor of literature at the University of Puerto Rico, is the author of several highly regarded volumes of poetry, including Anamú y Manigua, as well as works of short fiction, including the award-winning Pez de vidrio. She has also published the critically acclaimed novels Sirena Serena and Any Wednesday I'm Yours. According to Jaime Manrique, writing in Críticas, the "feeling of being an outsider is at the core of Santos-Febres's work. In her poetry and fiction, she celebrates destitute women, transvestites, and the petty criminals of the Puerto Rican urban and nocturnal demimonde."

Santos-Febres published her debut poetry collection, Anamú y Manigua, in 1991. In the work, she focuses on significant women in Puerto Rican history, such as poet Julia de Burgos, singer-turned-preacher La Lupe, and activist Lolita Lebrón. Santos-Febres followed that work with El orden escapado a second volume of poetry, and in 2000 she published Tercer Mundo, a collection of seventeen cantos that took only two weeks to write. Though she has since ventured into fiction, Santos-Febres told Manrique that "poetry is my master. Nothing gives better shape to the emotional mappings of a description or the subtexts of a dialog. A poetic consciousness makes any writer very aware of the sensual content and shape of every image and every word. It slows you down a bit, but if you (as a writer) are not concerned with speed and productivity, as you shouldn't be, then poetry is what gives taste and sound and glare and smell to your narrative."

Urban Oracles: Stories is the English translation of Pez de Vidrio, which won the Letras de Oro prize in 1994. Here Santos-Febres collects fifteen stories, each from one to sixteen pages in length. Peter Bricklebank concluded in the New York Times Book Review that "the stories merge social, sexual and magical realities." Some topics of the stories include the contents in a dead woman's purse, a woman who spies on her neighbor while he showers and dresses, a woman whose skin gives off the odors of her feelings; a woman who believes she licked her lover to death, and other sexual stories. Linda M. Rodriguez Guglielmoni remarked in Caribbean Writer that "Urban Oracles may be read as a call for the liberation of both Puerto Rican sexual identity and national territory."

Santos-Febres's novel Sirena Selena, an English translation of Sirena Serena vestida de peña, "evokes the sometimes dreamy, always seamy world of Caribbean drag queens, hustlers, transsexuals and two remarkable divas," observed a critic in Publishers Weekly. The work concerns Leocadio, a fifteen-year-old street hustler whose angelic singing voice draws the attention of transsexual cabaret owner Martha Divine. Divine rescues the boy from the back alleys of San Juan and transforms him into Sirena Selena, a celebrated transvestite entertainer. After the pair lands a big engagement at a posh Dominican Republic hotel, Sirena auditions privately for wealthy investor Hugo Graubel, a married father of two, who falls for the young singer. Sirena Selena "explores the nuanced layers of sexuality," noted Library Journal contributor Adriana Lopez, and Booklist reviewer Michele Leber stated that the novel provides a "view of an underworld in which all desires may be satisfied, but a price will be paid." Other reviewers also offered favorable comments. "Santos-Febres has written a sensitive, insightful book, devoid of the caricatures that often plague books on transvestitism," commented Barbara Mujica in Americas. "Sirena is a complex and enigmatic character. Through her, the author explores not only the effects of poverty and prejudice on a segment of Puerto Rico's underclass, but also the intricacies of human nature."

Any Wednesday I'm Yours, the English translation of Santos-Febres's second novel Cualquier miércoles soy tuya, follows Julio Castrodad, a former journalist working the night shift at a seedy San Juan motel. His relationship with a mysterious older woman who frequents the motel leads to a murder investigation. "This extremely visual novel reads like Raymond Chandler," Manrique stated, and Booklist critic Joanne Wilkinson remarked that Santos-Febres "writes strikingly about lost souls and lost dreams in sensual, evocative prose tinged with desperation."



Americas, March, 2001, Barbar Mujica, review of Sirena Selena, p. 60.

Booklist, May 1, 1997, Ellen Loughran, review of Urban Oracles: Stories, p. 1480; June 1, 2000, Michele Leber, review of Sirena Selena, p. 1808; July, 2005, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Any Wednesday I'm Yours, p. 1906.

Caribbean Writer, Volume 12, 1998, Linda M. Rodriguez Guglielmoni, review of Urban Oracles, pp. 263-264.

Críticas, April 1, 2003, Jaime Manrique, "Mayra's Siren Song."

Library Journal, June 15, 2000, Rebecca Stuhr, review of Sirena Selena, p. 118; June 1, 2001, Adriana Lopez, review of Sirena Selena vestida de pena, p. S31; August 1, 2005, Rex E. Klett, review of Any Wednesday I'm Yours, p. 57.

New York Times Book Review, December 14, 1997, Peter Bricklebank, review of Urban Oracles, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly, March 10, 1997, review of Urban Oracles, p. 49; July 3, 2000, review of Sirena Selena, p. 46.

School Library Journal, December, 2002, review of Cualquier miércoles soy tuya, p. 42.

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