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Denise Chávez: 1948—: Writer - One Of Las Girlfriends

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Her literary renown has placed Chávez firmly among the ranks of such important Latina writers as Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros, and Ana Castillo—a group that Cisneros has humorously dubbed "Las Girlfriends." Chávez has enjoyed the rich literary friendships she maintains with these women and with other prominent Latino writers, including her beloved mentor, Rudolfo Anaya, as well as Dagoberto Gilb, Gary Soto, Aria Castillo, Antonya Nelson, and Ben Saenz. "I used to go to the Western Writers' Conference and be the only Chicana in the room," she told Clark, "but that's changed now. Demographics are changing, we're becoming more multiethnic, multicultural, global."


Indeed, Chávez's work—which includes poetry as well as plays, essays, short stories, and novels—has found appreciative readers throughout the country. Face of an Angel was chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, and her short stories, essays, and plays have been widely anthologized. "I've had Jewish people and blacks and Anglos all tell me that [my character] Mama Lupita sounds just like their grandmother," she told Valdes with pride. Going on to observe that she used to wonder who would want to read about working class Chicanos, she added "Then I realized that these are not local stories, or even Mexican stories. They're universal."


Chávez has taught writing in a variety of settings, from university creative writing programs to a senior center and a women's prison. She has also been active in community arts projects, including the long-running Border Book Festival. She lived in Santa Fe for eight years but returned to Las Cruces in 1983 when her mother died. She has lived there since then, commuting to a job as professor of theater at the University of Houston from 1988 to 1991 and traveling frequently around the country to give lectures and workshops. In Las Cruces she cares for her elderly father, who has Alzheimer's disease and lives a few doors down from the house that Chávez shares with her husband, sculptor and photographer Daniel Zolinsky. There, Chávez writes in the same room in which she was born. "My work is rooted in the Southwest, in heat and dust, and reflects a world where love is as real as the land," Chávez commented in Contemporary Authors. "In this dry and seemingly harsh and empty world there is much beauty to be found. That hope of the heart is what feeds me, my characters."

Selected writings


Plays


The Wait (one-act), 1970.

Elevators (one-act), 1972.

The Flying Tortilla Man (one-act), 1975.

The Mask of November (one-act), 1977.

The Adobe Rabbit (one-act), 1979.

Santa Fe Charm (one-act), 1980.

How Junior Got Throwed in the Joint (one-act), 1981.

(With Nita Luna) Hecho en Mexico (one-act; title means "Made in Mexico"), 1982.

The Green Madonna (one-act), 1982.

La morenita (one-act; title means "The Dark Virgin"), 1983.

Plaza (one-act), 1984.

Plague-Time, 1985.

Novena narrativas (one-woman show; title means "The Novena Narratives"), 1986.

The Step (one-act), 1987.

Women in the State of Grace (one-woman show), 1989.

The Last of the Menu Girls (one-act; adapted from Chávez's short story of the same title), 1990.


Other


Editor, Life is a Two-Way Street (poetry anthology), Rosetta Press, 1980.

The Last of the Menu Girls (stories), Arte Publico, 1986.

The Woman Who Knew the Language of Animals (juvenile), Houghton Mifflin, 1992.

(Selector) Shattering the Myth: Plays by Hispanic Women, edited by Linda Feyder, Arte Publico, 1992.

Face of an Angel (novel), Farrar, Straus, 1994.

Loving Pedro Infante (novel), Farrar, Straus, 2001.


Sources

Books


Contemporary Authors, Volume 131, Gale Group, 1990

Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Gale, Vol. 56, 1997, Vol. 81, 1999.


Periodicals


AZTLAN-A Journal of Chicano Studies, Spring 2001, p. 127.

Boston Globe, September 30, 1994, p. 61; November 22, 1994, p. 58.

Hispanic, April 2001, p. 88.

Los Angeles Times, November 9, 1994; April 24, 2001.

New York Times Book Review, May 13, 2001.

Publishers Weekly, August 15, 1994, p. 77.


—Elizabeth Shostak

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