Hey there readers, this week I am honored to introduce Judith Ortiz Cofer, the author of our last featured YA book for this academic year, The Meaning of Consuelo. Ortiz Cofer was born in Hormingueros, Puerto Rico, where she spent her formative years until her father’s job in the Navy had them move to Paterson, New Jersey. Ortiz Cofer, though, returned repeatedly to the island, often staying for months at a time with her grandmother. Her passion for story telling was inspired by the many stories she heard from her grandmother during these visits.
In her writing, she deals with issues that have been themes in her own life, such as having experienced the opposing world views of her parents who disagreed about living on the island. While her mother wanted to maintain strong ties to her tradition and heritage, her father wished to disassociate himself and his children from the stigmas and lack of opportunity of being from the island. In an interview done by the Annenburg Foundation, she states, “I now know that it was my heritage; this is my material, this is what I can write about because I have intimate knowledge of it. So in a lot of my books, beginning with my early poetry and then on to my novels…my theme is: When you are always between cultures and between languages, how do you negotiate the world? And I think that is a very contemporary theme because America is constantly being populated and repopulated by new immigrants, and that is what makes this country unique.” This theme is evident throughout our featured novel, The Meaning of Consuelo, in particular.
Her books are relevant to multiple audiences, from those in high school all the way through adulthood. With writing that is at once personal and political, Ortiz Cofer deals with issues that pertain to Latin@s throughout the United States, including family networks, language maintenance, and identity formation.
Ortiz Cofer holds a B.A. in English from Augusta College and an M.A. in English Literature from Florida Atlantic University. After 26 years as an English professor, she retired from the University of Georgia in December 2013. We can imagine that her students must have been inspired to have her as teacher, for Ortiz Cofer’s writing is as flexible as it is creative. She shifts with apparent ease between writing poetry, essays, novels, short stories and creative non-fiction – all of which have garnered her critical acclaim. As evidence of her success, in 2010 Ortiz Cofer was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. She has received grants from the Witter Bynner Foundation and the George Council for the Arts, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Florida Fine Arts Council.
This month’s featured book, The Meaning of Consuelo, was no exception to this rule. The novel was awarded the 2003 Américas Award, ALA Best Books for Young Adults, and was also included on the New York Public Library’s “Books for the Teen Age 2004 List.”
To learn more about Ortiz Cofer and her work, check out some of the following resources:
- A Heinemann Publishing video interview in which “Judith Ortiz Cofer answers questions about writing,” including “why it matters, and her self-invention as an American writer and teacher.”
- The Center for Public Television’s video “Bookmark: Judith Ortiz Cofer”
- Poetry Foundation’s biography of her and selected poems
- Voices from the Gaps: Biography, Criticism, and Bibliography of Ortiz Cofer
- Georgia Writers Hall of Fame: Honoree Page
- Masterpiece Theater’s overview of Puerto Rican Poetry and selected poems
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