Judith Ortiz Cofer

U.S. Latino/a Literature                                      -                               Puerto Rican Literature in the United States



bulletJudith Ortiz Cofer's complete vita, at her webpage

"At three or four o'clock in the afternoon, the hour of cafe con leche, the women of my family gathered in Mama's living room to speak of important things and to tell stories for the hundredth time, as if to each other, meant to be overheard by us young girls, their daughters?"

This quotation comes from the beginning of Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood by Judith Ortiz Cofer. Silent Dancing is a collection of semi-autobiographical essays. In Cofer's own words, it is a collection of short pieces of "creative non-fiction" (Ocasio 737). Ortiz Cofer defines herself primarily as an artist. In her works, she explores what it means to be a writer in the face of negotiating what it means to be a Puerto Rican, an American, and a woman. Creating individual and community identities is a key aspect of Ortiz Cofer's life as an author. She is interested in the creative process and giving voice to the many characters in her life.

Judith Ortiz Cofer was born in Hormingueros, Puerto Rico on February 24, 1952. Her mother was a young bride and her father was in the US Navy. She spent her formative years being shuttled between Puerto Rico and Paterson, New Jersey, where her father was stationed. Anytime her father was on extended leave, Ortiz Cofer and her family went back to "the island" to spend time in her Grandmother's casa, house. In her Grandmother's, or Mama's, casa, she was introduced to the many cuentos, or tales, of her family. These cuentos provided Ortiz Cofer with her passion for storytelling.

Ortiz Cofer's mother tried hard to maintain her island heritage; she always viewed herself as being in temporary isolation when she found herself on the mainland. She held fast to the traditions and family values she knew well. Ortiz Cofer's father, on the other hand, thought that in order for his children to have the best educational and career opportunities, he had to fight hard to disassociate himself from his beloved island. He didn't want them to have the limited choices that he perceived himself to have been faced with as a boy coming into adulthood. These two opposing worldviews created a disconnect that Ortiz Cofer attempts to resolve through her writing.

Ortiz Cofer was educated primarily in the US, except for her first two years of school. Most of her primary and all of her secondary education was completed in the States. Her formative years were spent in public school; in the sixth grade, she entered a private, Catholic school. After riots broke out in 1968, near their home in Paterson, her family relocated to Georgia where she finished her last two years of high school. She received her B.A in English at Augusta College in 1974. She went on to receive her Masters in English at Florida Atlantic University in 1977. During this time, she attended a graduate summer program at the prestigious Oxford University where she was an English Speaking Union of America Fellow.

Ortiz Cofer has been awarded national fellowships and grants by the Fine Arts Council (1980), National Endowment for the Arts (1989), the Witter Bynner Foundation (1988) and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference (1987). Her first novel, In the Line of the Sun, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1989. Subsequently, the novel was named one of the "Twenty-five most Memorable Books" of that same year. One of her collections of poetry, Peregrina (1986), was a winning manuscript in the Riverstone International Chapbook Competition. She has also won the Pushcart Prize (1990), O. Henry Prize (1994), Anisfield Wolf Award (1994) and Christ-Janner Award for Creative Research (1998), along with many other awards and prizes. In the spring of 2001, she acted as a visiting writer at Vanderbilt University.

It wasn't until Ortiz Cofer had finished her Masters thesis that she really began to explore the possibility of becoming a writer. During her extensive research, she found herself overcome with the need to write a quick poem or story line on the back of her index cards. Frustrated and disturbed by the idea that something was missing from her life, she felt that these outbursts of creativity brought her closer to understanding the crux of these feelings. Ortiz Cofer states, "It wasn't until I traced this feeling to its source that I discovered both the cause and answer to my frustration: I needed to write" (The Latin Deli, 166). Shortly after, encouraged by a colleague, she sent out a poem and it was published. Poetry is Ortiz Cofer's first love, but she does not always adhere to its boundaries. She finds her voice through the use of a variety of genres. Over the years, she has created poems, essays, novels, short stories and works of creative non-fiction. According to Ortiz Cofer, "The decision about genre is made when I sit down and decide the parameters of what I'm writing" (Kallet, 75). Her ability to move easily between genres mirrors her ability to adapt to her sometimes conflicting surroundings.

She uses this ability, along with explorations of language and memory, as tools to negotiate her own voice in the literary world. The power of words to transform and create meaning and identity are key themes that thread her works together. For Ortiz Cofer, words and meaning are intrinsically entwined with memory. In the beginning of Silent Dancing, Ortiz Cofer discusses the subjective nature of memory and the importance of claiming memories in order to make them your own. Ortiz Cofer uses the telling of her memories to represent an aspect of identity that is transitional and that molds with its context. Memory is dependent on the emotions of the individual during the process of recollection. The juxtaposition of Ortiz Cofer's memories in Silent Dancing provide insight to how Judith Ortiz Cofer defines herself.

book cover: Women in Front of the SunOrtiz Cofer's explorations of identity formations are not only found in the context of her memories, but also exist in the spaces created between. Again, she uses language to decipher these spaces. Although she spent most of her childhood in the U.S., her home life acted as an anchor to her Puerto Rican past. Her mother was vigilant in keeping their home a microcosm of the island. Outside the home, Ortiz Cofer dealt in English, yet within the home her language was Spanish. Ortiz Cofer remembers that as a child, she often felt that neither language suited her. "I was constantly made to feel like an oddball by my peers, who made fun of my two-way accent: a Spanish accent when I spoke English; and, when I spoke Spanish, I was told that I sounded like a 'Gringa'" (Silent Dancing 17). Ortiz Cofer's two spoken languages never shed their inherent influence on each other. Although she writes in English, Ortiz Cofer often intersperses Spanish words throughout her texts, allowing the two languages to exist simultaneously. She creates an inter- or trans-lingual reality (Bruce-Novoa 94). Ortiz Cofer uses her writing to define herself in relation to the spaces between the cultures in which she finds herself. She draws on the power of language, genre, and memory to negotiate these liminal spaces.

Another important aspect of Ortiz Cofer's writing is her commitment to creating community. She not only uses her writing to carve out her own sense of identity, she also attempts to evoke similar responses in others. As she explains in Women in Front of the Sun, she seeks to inspire and move her readers, "My poetry, my stories, and my essays concern themselves with the coalescing of languages and cultures into a vision that had meaning first of all for me; then, if I am served well by my craft and the transformation occurs, it will also have meaning for others as art" (Women in Front of the Sun 120).

Currently, Ortiz Cofer lives with her husband, John Cofer, and has one daughter, Tanya. She is a Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. She continues to write and to receive high recognition for her work. She also travels extensively around the country, appearing as a keynote speaker or featured writer at a variety of institutions. Her novel The Meaning of Consuelo is set to be released in November 2003.


Judith Ortiz Cofer is the author of the forthcoming Call Me Maria, a young adult novel; The Meaning of Consuelo, a novel; Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer, a collection of essays; The Line of the Sun, a novel; Silent Dancing, a collection of essays and poetry; two books of poetry, Terms of Survival and Reaching for the Mainland; and The Latin Deli: Prose and Poetry. Her work has appeared in The Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Southern Review, Glamour and other journals. Her work has been included in numerous textbooks and anthologies including: Best American Essays 1991, The Norton Book of Women's Lives, The Norton Introduction to Literature, The Norton Introduction to Poetry, The Heath Anthology of American Literature, The Pushcart Prize, and the O. Henry Prize Stories.

The Meaning of Consuelo was selected as one of two winners of the 2003 Americas Award, sponsored by the National Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs, for U.S. published titles that authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States.   The novel was also included on the New York Public Library's "Books for the Teen Age 2004 List."  A PEN/Martha Albrand Special Citation in non-fiction was awarded to Professor Cofer for Silent Dancing as well as the Anisfield Wolf Book Award for The Latin Deli, and her work has been selected for the Syndicated Fiction Project. She has received fellowships from the NEA and the Witter Bynner Foundation for poetry. A collection of short stories, An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio, was named a Best Book of the Year, 1995-96 by the American Library Association. It was awarded the first Pura Belpre medal by REFORMA of ALA in 1996. La linea del sol, the Spanish translation by Elena Olazagasti-Segovia of The Line of the Sun, was published in 1997 by the University of Puerto Rico Press. In 1998, The Year of Our Revolution: New and Selected Stories and Poems was awarded a Paterson Book Prize by the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College. The Spanish translation by Elena Olazagasti-Segovia of Silent Dancing, Bailando en silencio was published by Arte Publico Press in 1998.

She is the 1998 recipient of the Christ-Janner Award in Creative Research from the University of Georgia. The Rockerfeller Foundation awarded her a residency at the Bellagio, Italy Conference Center in 1999.  During spring 2001, she was Vanderbilt University’s Gertrude and Harold S. Vanderbilt Visiting Writer in Residence. Judith Ortiz Cofer is the Franklin Professor of English at the University of Georgia.

(From Voices from the Gaps)


Works by the Author

bulletThe Meaning of Consuelo (novel), 2003.
bulletWoman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer, University of Georgia Press, 2000.
bulletSleeping with One Eye Open: Women Writers and the Art of Survival, University of Georgia Press, 1999. Coeditor with Marilyn Kallet.
bulletThe Year of Our Revolution: New and Selected Stories and Poems, Arte Publico, 1998.
bulletAn Island like You: Stories of the Barrio (young adult), Orchard Books (New York City), 1995.
bulletThe Latin Deli, University of Georgia Press, 1993
bulletSilent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood (personal essays), Arte Publico, 1990.
bulletThe Line of the Sun (novel), University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA),1989.
bulletTerms of Survival (poems), Arte Publico (Houston, TX), 1987
bulletPeregrina (poems), Riverstone Press (Golden, CO), 1986.
bulletLatin Women Pray (three-act play), first produced in Atlanta at Georgia State University, June, 1984.
bulletAmong the Ancestors (chapbook), Louisville News Press, 1981.
bulletThe Native Dancer (chapbook), Pteranodon Press, 1981
bulletLatin Women Pray (chapbook), Florida Arts Gazette Press, 1980.

Works about the Author

bulletAcosta-Belen, Edna. A MELUS interview: Judith Ortiz Cofer. (Poetry and Poetics), (Interview), MELUS 18.2 (Fall 1993): 83-98.
bulletAcosta-Belen, Edna. The Literature of the Puerto Rican National Minority in the United States. The Bilingual Review 5:1-2 (Jan.-Aug. 1978): 107-16.
bulletBaker, Judy. The Unforgettable Images of Poet Judith Ortiz Cofer; Her Life in Cuentos and Poems.(Essay) The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education 13.10 (24 February 2003): 29.
bulletBost, Suzanne. Transgressing Borders: Puerto Rican and Latina Mestizaje. (Critical Essay). MELUS 25.2 (Summer 2001): 187-109.
bulletBruce-Novoa, Juan. Ritual in Judith Ortiz Cofer's The Line of the Sun. (Journal Article).? Confluencia:? Revista Hispanica de Cultura y Literatura 8.1 (Fall 1992): 61-69.
bulletBruce-Novoa, Juan. Judith Ortiz Cofer?s Rituals of Movement, (Critical Essay). The Americas Review 19.3-4 (1991): 88-99.
bulletDavis, Rocio G. Metanarrative in Ethnic Autobiography for Children: Laurence Yep's The Lost Garden and Judith Ortiz Cofer's Silent Dancing.(Critical Essay). MELUS 27.2 (Summer 2002): 139-158.
bulletFabre, Gloria. Liminality, In-Betweenness and Indeterminacy:? Notes toward an Anthropological Reading? of Judith Ortiz Cofer's The Line of the Sun."? (Journal Article). Annales du Centre de Recherches sur l'Amerique Anglophone 18 (1993): 223-232.
bulletFaymonville, Carmen. New Transnational Identities in Judith Ortiz Cofer?s Autobiographical Fiction. (Critical Essay). MELUS 26.2 (Summer 2001): 129-157.
bulletFaymonville, Carmen. "Motherland versus Daughterland in Judith Ortiz Cofer's The Line of the Sun." (Book Article) The Immigrant Experience in North American Literature: Carving Out a Niche. Editors Katherine B. Payant and Toby Rose. 1999
bulletGrobman, Laurie. "The Cultural Past and Artistic Creation in Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street and Judith Ortiz Cofer's Silent Dancing." (Journal Article). Confluencia: Revista Hispanica de Cultura y Literatura 11.1 (Fall 1995): 42-29.
bulletKallet, Marilyn. "The Art of Not Forgetting: An Interview with Judith Ortiz Cofer." (Interview) Prairie Schooner 68.4 (Winter 1994): 68-76.
bulletLee, Sarah. "A Contradiction in Terms: Athens Author Judith Ortiz Cofer Celebrates Her Multi-Cultural Heritage." Athens Daily News / Athens Banner Herald 26 November 2000: 1E.
bulletMaldonado-DeOliveira, Debora. "The Flying Metaphor: Travel, Cultural Memory, and Identity in Three Puerto Rican Texts." (Dissertation). University of Rochester. Dept. of Modern Languages and Cultures, 2000.
bulletOcasio, Rafael, "Puerto Rican Literature in Georgia: An interview with Judith Ortiz Cofer." (Interview), The Kenyon Review 14.4 (Fall 1992): 43-51.
bulletOcasio, Rafael. "The infinite variety of the Puerto Rican reality: an interview with Judith Ortiz Cofer." (Special Issue: Puerto Rican Women Writers) (Interview) Callaloo 17.3 (Summer 1994): 730-742.
bulletPiedra, Jose. "His and Her Panics." (Journal Article). Dispositio: Revista Americana de Estudios Comparados y Culturales/American Journal of Comparative and Cultural Studies 16.41 (1991): 71-93.
bulletRangil, Viviana. "Pro-Claiming a Space: The Poetry of Sandra Cisneros and Judith Ortiz Cofer." (Critical Essay). Multicultural Review 9.3 (September 2000): 48-51; 54-55.





A Casa of my Own, a video of a public lecture


"Don't Misread My Signals"


Health  entry on Judith Ortiz Cofer with a suggested reading guide


The Chelsea Forum page on Judith Ortiz Cofer


Bibliography of articles and reviews on her work




Puerto Rican Literature in Georgia? An Interview with Judith Ortiz Cofer by Rafael Ocasio


An iNterview with Judith Ortiz Cofer by Stephanie Gordon


Back to Puerto Rican Literature Home Page



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© Antonia Domínguez Miguela. Site last updated: 14 October 2004