Judith Ortiz Cofer: 1952—: Poet, Novelist, Educator
Writing Focused On Maintaining Identity
It is certain that the frequent moves and significant differences in the two cultures made Ortiz Cofer's childhood and adolescence a challenge. However, those challenges have also become the basis for much of her writing. Even in her first fictional novel, The Line of the Sun, Ortiz Cofer used her own life experiences in a thinly disguised autobiographical examination of the transient nature of identity. In Carmen Faymonville's 2001 study of Ortiz Cofer's work, "New Transnational Identities in Judith Ortiz Cofer's Autobiographical Fiction," Faymonville argues that Ortiz Cofer's writing is bridged between two cultures, without having to be identified with either one. Instead, "This new, constantly shifting identification with two cultures allows an escape from fixed, modernist identity and acknowledges that cultures are not discrete geographic or cultural spaces." Ortiz Cofer, according to Faymonville, does not choose between being Puerto Rican or American, as her mother felt she must do. Ortiz Cofer's mother could not allow herself to become an American; she was always a Puerto Rican, who yearned to return to her home. Faymonville posits that in her fiction, Ortiz Cofer is proving that "after relocation, national identity need no longer become the object of nostalgia and desire and no longer function as the repository of all that is experienced as absent and lacking." Unlike her mother, Ortiz Cofer need not choose between being an American or a Puerto Rican; she can become both and remain in her home in Georgia. Her imagination unites both identities in her writing.
Since 1992 Ortiz Cofer has been a professor of English and creative writing at the University of Georgia. In 1999, she was appointed the Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing. She and her husband live in Louisville, Georgia on a farm that has been in her husband's family for many years. Although Ortiz Cofer continues to visit Puerto Rico frequently, she has proven in both her writing and in her own life that an immigrant need not choose one identity over another. Rather than sacrifice being Puerto Rican for being an American, Ortiz Cofer is able to transcend both cultures by keeping both of them alive in her own work. As she wrote in an essay in "Rituals: A Prayer, a Candle, and a Notebook," "the memories [of her parents and her childhood] emerge in my poems and stories like time-travelers popping up with a message for me." One of the unique aspects of Ortiz Cofer's work is her ability to capture the past, with its difficulties of assimilation, and make those thoughts relevant to her readers. It is as if her readers had becomes voyeurs of the author's past, to capture a rare glimpse into her life.
Latin Women Pray, Florida Arts Gazette Press, 1980.
The Native Dancers, Pteranodan Press, 1981.
Among the Ancestors, Louisville News Press, 1981.
Peregrina, Riverstone Press, 1986.
Terms of Survival, Arte Público, 1987.
The Line of the Sun, University of Georgia Press, 1989.
Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood, Arte Público, 1990.
Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer, University of Georgia Press, 2000.
Becoming American: Personal Essays by First Generation Immigrant Women, Hyperion, 2000, pp. 29-38.
Latina Self Portraits: Interviews With Contemporary Women Writers, University of New Mexico Press, 2000, pp. 109-123.
AWP Chronicle, October/November 1997, pp. 1-9.
Melus, Fall 1993, pp. 84-99; Summer 2001, pp. 129-159.
—Sheri Elaine Metzger
- Judith Ortiz Cofer: 1952—: Poet, Novelist, Educator - Discovered Poetry After College
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