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Denise Chávez: 1948—: Writer - Cultural And Literary Roots

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Katie Burke (1953–) Biography - Personal to Galeazzo Ciano (1903–1944) BiographyDenise Chávez: 1948—: Writer Biography - Cultural And Literary Roots, Confronted Issues Of Sexuality, One Of Las Girlfriends

Cultural and Literary Roots

Chávez's southwestern roots run deep. She still lives in the house on La Colonia Street in Las Cruces, New Mexico, once owned by her grandmother, where she was born on August 15, 1948. Her family placed great emphasis on education. Chávez's mother, a school-teacher, spoke flawless Spanish and English and insisted on the same for her children. From an early age, Chávez loved to read and write. She began keeping a diary, and also absorbed the stories she heard from extended family members during summer visits in west Texas. "The untold stories were always the ones that, as kids, we found the most interesting," she commented in a Los Angeles Times piece. "Like the one about why one of my uncles had only half an ear. The story was that he'd been in a terrible accident, but we knew there was more to it." Her love of books was also a family affair. "My grandmother loved to read," Chávez continued. "She found a joy in the language. These were people who had a love of literature and language."

After her parents divorced when she was ten, Chávez lived with her grandmother, mother, sister, and half-sister—an environment that Chávez credits for the strong female influences in her writing. Much as she loved hearing and telling stories, though, the young Chávez did not plan to become a writer. As a teenager she worked in a local hospital and aspired to be an actress. She attended Madonna High School, an all-girls Catholic school where, she told Boston Globe writer Alisa Valdes, "we learned we could do anything we wanted to, and were never told we couldn't succeed." There Chávez nurtured her budding interest in theater by performing in drama productions. She attended New Mexico State University, where she majored in drama and wrote her first play, The Wait, which won the New Mexico State University Best Play award. She went on to write several one-act plays in the 1970s and 1980s, and earned an M.F.A. in drama from Trinity University. In 1982 she earned an M.A. from the University of New Mexico. Many of Chávez's plays have been produced in New Mexico; Plaza, one of her best-known dramas, has been produced at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland and at Joseph Papp's Festival Latino de Nueva York. Her one-woman show, Women in the State of Grace, in which Chávez herself has appeared, has been produced nationally since 1993.

At a Glance . . .

Born August 15, 1948, in Las Cruces, NM; daughter of Ernesto E. (an attorney) and Delfina (a teacher; maiden name, Rede) Chávez; married Daniel Zolinsky. Education: NM State Univ., B.A., 1971; Trinity Univ., M.F.A., 1974; Univ. of NM, M.A., 1982.Religion: Roman Catholic. Politics: Democrat.

Career: Northern NM Community Coll., Espanola, faculty member, 1975-80; playwright, 1977–; artist in the schools, NM Arts Division, 1977-83; Univ. of Houston, visiting scholar, 1988, faculty member, 1988-91; NM State Univ., faculty member, 1996–. American School of Paris, instructor, 1975-77; NM State Univ., visiting professor, 1992-93, 1995-96; Border Book Festival, artistic director, 1994–; Radium Springs Center for Women (medium security prison), teacher; one woman show Women in the State of Grace; writer-in-residence: La Compania de Teatro, Theatre-in-the-Red; artist-in-residence: Arts with Elders Program; Community Action Agency, co-director, senior citizen workshop in creative writing & puppetry 1986-89.

Memberships: Natl Institute of Chicana Writers, founding mem.; PEN USA; PEN USA West; Author's Guild; Western Writers of America; Women Writing in the West; Santa Fe Writers Cooperative.

Awards: Best Play Award, NM State Univ., 1970; citizen advocacy awd, Dona Ana County Human Services Constorium, 1981; grants: NM Arts Divison, 1979-80,1981, 1988, NEA, 1981, 1982, Rockefeller Foundation, 1984, University of Houston, 1989; creative writing fellowship, Univ. of NM, 1982; Puerto del Sol Fiction awd, 1986; creative artist fellowship, Cultural Arts Council of Houston, 1990; Favorite Teacher Awd, Univ. of Houston, 1991; Premio Aztlan Awd, American Book Awd, 1995; Mesilla Valley Writer of the Year Awd, 1995; NM Governor's Awd in literature, 1995; Luminaria Awd, NM Community Foundation, 1996.

Chávez has acknowledged many influences in her work, from Anton Chekhov and Garcia Lorca to the New Mexican writer Rudolfo Anaya, who became a mentor and friend. It was Anaya who encouraged the aspiring writer to enroll in the University of New Mexico's M.F.A. program. Perhaps more important, though, was that, as Chávez explained in a Publishers Weekly interview with William Clark, Anaya's work "opened the door to the value of my own culture, language, background."

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