Corpi, Lucha: 1945—: Poet, Novelist
Lucha Corpi: 1945—: Poet, novelist
Lucha Corpi has never viewed art and politics as two separate disciplines, but has infused her poetry, short stories, and novels with her experiences as a Hispanic, an immigrant, and as a woman. "I never intended to be a political writer," she told Karin Rosa Ikas in Chicana Ways, "I wrote about what I wanted to write, and I never set limits of any kind in terms of expression or thematically." Corpi became involved in the Chicano civil rights movement and was instrumental in forming Aztlán Cultural, an arts service organization. She won a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1979 and was awarded first prize in the Palabra Nueva competition for "Martyrs of the Soul" in 1983. In addition to writing poetry and prose, Corpi completed her first mystery novel, Eulogy for a Brown Angel, in 1992.
Immigrated to United States
Lucha was born in Jáltipan, Mexico, a tropical region located along the Gulf Coast. At nine, she moved with her family to San Luis Potosí. She later poetically recalled these early environments in Where Fireflies Dance, an autobiographical book for children published in 1997. Her father, Miguel Ángel Corpi, insisted that she and her sister receive the same education as their six brothers. In her interview with Ikas, she recalled her father's words: "'You have to do your homework, you have to study, you have to get good grades, you have to go to college, to the university, you have to have a career.'"
Corpi trained for two years to become a dentist, but she told Ikas, "When I had to do my first molar extraction and the first ten fillings, I knew I was going to go crazy if I ever became a dentist." She met Guillermo Hernández, who introduced her to philosophy and literature. In 1964 they married and immigrated to the United States so that he could study at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1967 their son, Arturo, was born.
In 1970 Corpi and her husband divorced, leaving her devastated. She had very few friends, and there was a young son to support. Although she considered returning to Mexico, she feared that she would be marginalized as a divorced woman. She recalled to Ikas, "I was very angry at my own Mexican culture for not allowing me as a woman to have the possibility of a wholesome life." In the 1970s Corpi resumed her studies at the University of California, where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in comparative literature in 1975. She participated in the Chicano civil rights movement in the 1970s. During this period Corpi helped found Aztlán Cultural, a cultural arts service. She also worked with Comité Popular Educativo de la Raza to build a network of bilingual childcare centers in Oakland. She told Ikas, "Cities like Oakland I see as the lab where the American Dream is tested every day, for we have to figure out a way to handle that diversity of ethnicity every day."
At a Glance . . .
Born Lucha Corpi on April 13, 1945, in Jáltipan , Mexico; immigrated to the United States, 1964; married Guillermo Hernández, 1964 (divorced, 1970); children: Arturo. Education: University of California, Berkeley, B.A, 1975; San Francisco State University, M.A., comparative and world literature, 1979.
Career: University of California, Berkeley, vice-chair of Chicano Studies executive committee, 1970-71, coordinator of Chicano Studies Library, 1970-72; Oakland Public Neighborhood Centers, Oakland, CA, teacher of English as a second language, 1973-; founding member, Aztlán Cultural, 1971, and Centro Chicano de Escritores, 1980; member, Oakland Museum and Latin American Commission; member, Sisters in Crime.
Memberships: California Association of Teachers of English as a Second Language.
Awards: Fellow of National Endowment for the Arts, 1979-80; winner of Palabra nueva literary contest, for short story "The Martyrs of the Soul," 1983; first place in the Chicano Literary Contest, University of California at Irvine, for short story "Shadows of Ebbing Water," 1984; awarded Creative Arts Fellowship in fiction by the City of Oakland, 1990; named poet laureate at Indian University, 1990.
Addresses: Home— Oakland, CA. Office— Clinton Park Adult School, 655 East 14th St., Oakland CA 94606.
Became a Poet
Corpi also began writing poetry in 1970 as an outlet for her feelings following her divorce. "There was a need to articulate all the ambivalence, all the contradictions, all the sorrow and pain carried within me," she recalled to Ikas. Her first work, Fireflight: Three Latin American Poets, appeared in 1976 in a collection with the work of two other poets. The MultiCultural Review commented, "Among the themes explored in this volume are the challenges of crossing cultures and living with two languages, the role of women, political commitment, love, and death." In the critically praised "The Marina Poems," Corpi began to explore the roles of women throughout Mexican history. Corpi continued to examine these themes in Palabras de mediodia/Noon Words, published in 1980.
After an uncomfortable poetic silence following her first work, Corpi turned to prose to break the tension. She wrote her first story in English in 1984 and the same year she received first place in the University of California at Irvine's Chicano Literary Contest, for "Shadows of Ebbing Water." In 1989 she completed her first novel, Delia's Song. The novel tells the story of a woman who decides to leave home, attend college in California, and finally become a writer, mirroring many of the events in Corpi's own life. In 1990 she was honored with an art fellowship by the City of Oakland, and was named poet laureate of Indian University Northwest.
Evolved as a Writer
In 1992 Corpi wrote her first mystery novel, Eulogy for a Brown Angel, which won the Multicultural Publishers Exchange Best Book of Fiction award. As with her previous work, she continued to insert Mexican history into the settings and events of the fictionalized story. She followed with Cactus Blood in 1995 and Black Widow's Wardrobe in 1999. The books all featured her Chicano detective, Damasco. "It's her inclusion of Latino culture that distinguishes Corpi," noted Valerie Menard in Hispanic. In 1999 Corpi edited Mascaras, a book of 15 autobiographical essays by Latina writers, a collection that investigated many of her own concerns. "In addressing the role of women as artists," wrote Nan Alamilla in Signs, "Corpi's collection explores the development of Latina consciousness and provides new insight into the sources of Latina feminisms."
Corpi has taught English as a second language at Oakland public schools since 1973 and also teaches at Vista Junior College. She told Ikas, "As a teacher in the Oakland schools, am a mediator between cultures.… Being a writer is then just an extension of that view of the teacher as well." Her mysteries have earned her a membership in the feminist writers' organization, Sisters in Crime, and she won the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award in 1993. A poet as well as a prose writer, Corpi' two most common themes are the inescapable nature of fate and the concerns of women who find themselves trapped by the circumstances of their own lives. Corpi's ability to address these concerns continued to resonate, both in and beyond the growing Latino community.
(With Elsie Alvarado de Ricord and Concha Michel) Fireflight: Three Latin American Poets, Oyez, 1976.
Palabras de mediodia/Noon Words, Fuego de Aztlan, 1980.
Delia's Song, Arte Publico, 1989.
Cactus Blood, Arte Publico, 1995.
Where Fireflies Dance, Children's Book Press, 1997.
Black Widow's Wardrobe, Arte Publico, 1999.
Ikas, Karin Rosa, Chicana Ways: Conversations with Ten Chicana Writers, University of Nevada, 2002.
Lomeli, Francisco A., and Carl R. Shirley, editors, Chicano Writers First Series: Dictionary of American Literary Biography, Vol. 82, Gale, 1989.
Rebolledo, Tey Diana, Women Singing in the Snow: A Cultural Analysis of Chicana Literature, University of Arizona, 1995.
Hispanic, May 2000, p. 80.
MultiCultural Review, September 2001.
Signs, Autumn 1999, p. 255.
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
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