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Mohr, Nicholasa: 1938—: Writer

Nicholasa Mohr: 1938: Writer




Nicholasa Mohr achieved critical acclaim with her first novel, Nilda, published in 1973. In fact, Nilda won several notable literary awards. A classic novel of a Puerto Rican girl coming of age in New York City during World War II, Nilda included eight illustrations and a book jacket created by the author that also won several awards. One critic, Donald B. Gibson, wrote in Children's Literature, "[Nilda is] what I would call a significant book, a touchstone by which others may be judged." After such an auspicious beginning, Mohr continued to write, and was presented with the Hispanic Heritage Award for literature in 1997. These awards honor Hispanic Americans who "have made a significant contribution to our nation." Mohr has had her poems and short stories published in various journals and magazines, and have also appeared in numerous anthologies by women of color. In May of 1989 Mohr was awarded with the honorary doctor of letters degree from the State University of New York.


Studied Art

Mohr was born on November 1, 1938, to Pedro and Nicholasa (Rivera) Golpe. Her mother moved from Puerto Rico during the Great Depression to East Harlem (El Barrio) with her four children. She married Pedro Golpe, and Mohr was one of three children born to this union, and the only girl. Not long after their move to America, the family relocated to the Bronx. When Mohr was only eight years old her father died. To help her deal with her bereavement her mother supplied Mohr with paper, a pencil, and some crayons with which she began drawing and writing. The author associated these tools with the word magic, because they were a means of escape. She referred to this in her Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS) essay, "by making pictures and writing letters I could create my own world like 'magic.'" Not long after this Mohr was almost tucked away in a trade school to become a seamstress; according to a counselor, a Puerto Rican girl did not need an education. Mohr remembered the words of her mother, who told her to continue to use her talent, according to SAAS. On her own, Mohr located a school that offered a major in fashion design that enabled her to continue to draw.

Mohr's mother died long before she completed high school, but the independence and self-worth she instilled in her daughter proved to be long-lasting. Although her aunt became her legal guardian, she failed to supply Mohr with the motivation and strength she had gained from her mother. Mohr, on the other hand, was determined to be an artist. Upon graduation, Mohr went to the Arts Students's League in New York City to pursue her dream of becoming an artist. She worked her way through art school and saved enough money to continue her education. Fascinated with Mexican murals and the artists who created them, Mohr traveled to Mexico City to study them. When she returned to New York City, Mohr continued her education at the New School for Social Research. She also met Irwin Mohr, whom she married and with whom she later had 2 sons, David and Jason.

At a Glance . . .


Born Nicholasa Golpe on November 1, 1938, in New York, NY; widowed; children: David, Jason. Education: Arts Students' League in New York, 1953-56; New School for Social Research in New York City; Brooklyn Museum Art School, fine art, 1959-66; Pratt Center for Contemporary Printmaking, printmaking and silkscreening, 1966-69. Religion: Catholic.


Career: Fine arts painter in New York, California, and Puerto Rico, 1957-58; printmaker in New York and Mexico, 1965; Art Center of Northern New Jersey, art instructor, 1971-73; MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, NH, writer in residence, 1972, 1974, and 1976; State University of New York at Stony Brook, lecturer in Puerto Rican studies, 1977; Queens College of the City University of New York, distinguished visiting professor, 1988-91; visiting lecturer in creative writing for various educator, librarian, student, and community groups; head creative writer and co-producer of videotape series Aqui y Ahora.


Memberships: New Jersey State Council on the Arts, board of trustees; Consultant for the Young Filmmakers Foundation; consultant on Bilingual Media Training for Young Filmmakers Video Arts; board of contributing editors of Nuestro; Authors Guild; Authors League of America.


Awards: Outstanding Book Award in Juvenile Fiction, 1973; Jane Adams Children's Book Award, Jane Addams Peace Association, 1974; MacDowell Colony writing fellowship, 1974; Outstanding Book Award in Teenage Fiction, New York Times, 1975; Best Book Award, School Library Journal, 1975; honorary doctorate, State University of New York at Albany.


Address: Office 309 East 108 St., Ste. 5D, New York, NY 10029.

In an interview with children's book historian, author, and critic Marcus Leonard in Publisher's Weekly, Mohr openly discussed her childhood as an unpleasant experience. She stated that "early on there were times that [I] felt like [I] was entering into hostile territory." Mohr went on to say that in the 1950s when the Puerto Ricans flourished in New York City, she felt "less isolated." Like other Latinas, Mohr often incorporated these compelling accounts into her various artistic works. One could say that her feelings were transformed onto her paper, and therefore what was published as fiction, in reality was non-fiction.


Transitioned to Writing


It was Mohr's art agent that expressed the lack and need for a story centered on a young Puerto Rican girl. Mohr reflected back to when she was a young girl and read all those storybooks and reached the same conclusion. Ellen Rudin, editor-in-chief at HarperCollins, offered Mohr a contract to write her first novel, after she had reviewed several stories Mohr had written. Mohr discovered she could reach a larger audience with greater impact through written, opposed to visual, art. As Mohr said to Paul Lauter, editor of The Heath Anthology of American Literature, "The visual art world is very exclusive and expensive [b]ut when an artist writes a book, it becomes accessible to a wider audience." Still, art was incorporated into her works, which only strengthened her storyline. Mohr's literature was simple and direct, because it was primarily directed towards young adolescents.

Mohr's focus has been directed towards fiction, drama, screenplays, and teleplays. Her writing centered on the experiences and oppression that women faced in the Puerto Rican community in New York City. Her female characters and her themes portray gender barriers, urban poverty, liberation, social struggles, triumphs, and the limiting roles that men try to create for women. Mohr referred to this in The Heath Anthology of American Literature, "I hope there will be more Hispanic writers finding their voices, too, learning to value their own lives as important and valuable to write about." For this reason, Mohr continued to educate and influence the young. In 2001 she lectured at Millersville College, in Millersville, Pennsylvania. Mohr was also the featured speaker at the 2001 Annual Bella Abzug Lecture on Women's Studies, at Hunter College. Her topic included "Reflections of the Big Mango: Growing up Latina in the USA." Mohr also participated in the 2002 Teacher Network Conference, lunch with an author program.

With a 1999 grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, Mohr and the Rubií Theatre Company began to work on the musical adaptation of her novel, Nilda, also cited as an "outstanding book" by the New York Times. Additional plays written by Mohr include, Zoraida, a story adapted from the story collection, Rituals of Survival: A Woman's Portfolio, and I Never Seen My Father, a story adaptation from the collection In Nueva York were performed at INTAR NewWorks Lab in 2000.


Continued Writing

Mohr has remained active with the process of translating her works for the stage. She has been involved with plays, stage productions, media writing, as well as productions. With Rubií Theatre developing Nilda, the musical drama, Mohr wrote the lyrics. She has also been busy with additional stories from the Page to the Stage adapted from the collection El Bronx Remembered to be released in the fall of 2003. Works in progress include the musical Herman and Alice, and a collection of stories for adults. She has also been working on a children's fairy tale about the Puerto Rican rain forests, to be published by Viking, and a book of stories about women and love, directed towards adults, to be published by Arte Publico Press. In the spring of 2001 Mohr moved from Park Slope, Brooklyn to East Harlem, El Barrio where she was born. She has been busy renovating a loft where she continues to do freelance work. When all is considered, Mohr has become a valuable source of information that she in turn has shared with others in her teaching, lectures, and through her writing.


Selected Writings


Plays


Nilda (musical).

Zoraida.

I Never Seen My Father.


Novels


Nilda, Harper and Row, 1973.

El Bronx Remembered: A Novella and Stories, Harper and Row, 1975.

In Nueva York, Dial, 1977.

Felita, Dial, 1979.

Rituals of Survival: A Woman's Portfolio, Arte Publico, 1985.

Going Home, Dial, 1986.

All For the Better: A story of El Barrio, Raintree Stech-Vaughn, 1993.

Nicholasa Mohr: Growing Up Inside the Sanctuary of My Imagination, Messner, 1994.

The Magic Shell, 1994.

The Song of El Coqui & Other Tales of Puerto Rico, Scholastic, 1995.

Old Letivia & the Mountain of Sorrows, Viking, 1996.

A Matter of Pride & Other Stories, Arte Publico, 1997.

Untitled Nicholasa Mohr, Viking Penguin, 1998.


Sources

Books


Leonard, Marcus S., Author Talk, Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 8, Gale, p.192.

Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 97, Gale, p.97.

Turner, Faythe, Puerto Rican Writers at Home in the USA: An Anthology, Open Hand Publishers, 1991.


Periodicals


Children's Literature, Volume 3, 1974.

Hispanic Times Magazine, March-April 1999.

Publisher's Weekly, February 14, 2000.


On-line


http://galenet.com

http://www.georgetown.edu

Voices From The Gap, http://voices.cla.umn.edu/authors/NicholasaMohr.html

http://www.rmmla.edu


Other


Additional information for this profile was obtained through a telephone interview with Nicholasa Mohr on May 13, 28, 2002.

Brenda Kubiac

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