Judith Ortiz Cofer

Puerto Rican writer

Judith Ortiz Cofer (February 24, 1952 – December 30, 2016) was a Puerto Rican writer. Her critically acclaimed and award-winning work spans a range of literary genres including poetry, short stories, autobiography, essays, and young-adult fiction. Ortiz Cofer was the Emeritus Regents' and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia, where she taught undergraduate and graduate creative writing workshops for 26 years. In 2010, Ortiz Cofer was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame, and in 2013, she won the University's 2014 Southeastern Conference Faculty Achievement Award.

Judith Ortiz Cofer in 2006

Quotes edit

  • I was born a white girl in Puerto Rico but became a brown girl when I came to live in the United States.
    • "The Story of My Body"
  • I had discovered that I needed stability more than social life. I had brains for sure and some talent in writing. These facts were a constant in my life. My skin color, my size, and my appearance were variables-things that were judged cording to my current self-image, the aesthetic values of the times, the places I was in, and the people I met. My studies, later my writing, the respect of people who saw me as an individual person they cared about, these were the criteria for my sense of self-worth that would concentrate on in my adult life.
    • "The Story of My Body"

"The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named María" edit

  • a prime fact of my life: you can leave the Island, master the English language, and travel as far as you can, but if you are a Latina, especially one like me who so obviously belongs to Rita Moreno's gene pool, the Island travels with you.
  • Mixed cultural signals have perpetuated certain stereotypes-for example, that of the Hispanic woman as the "Hot Tamale" or sexual firebrand. It is a one-dimensional view that the media have found easy to promote. In their special vocabulary, advertisers have designated "sizzling" and "smoldering" as the adjectives of choice for describing not only the foods but also the women of Latin America. From conversations in my house, I recall hearing about the harassment that Puerto Rican women endured in factories where the "bossmen" talked to them as if sexual innuendo was all they understood, and worse, often gave them the choice of submitting to advances or being fired.
  • The myth of the Hispanic menial has been sustained by the same media phenomenon that made "Mammy" from Gone with the Wind America's idea of the black woman for generations: Maria, the housemaid or counter girl, is now indelibly etched into the national psyche. The big and the little screens have presented us with the picture of the funny Hispanic maid, mispronouncing words and cooking up a spicy storm in a shiny California kitchen.
  • My personal goal in my public life is to try to replace the old pervasive stereotypes and myths about Latinas with a much more interesting set of realities. Every time I give a reading, I hope the stories I tell, the dreams and fears I examine in my work, can achieve some universal truth which will get my audience past the particulars of my skin color, my accent, or my clothes.

Interview (2000) edit

In A Poet's Truth: Conversations with Latino/Latina Poets by Bruce Allen Dick

  • I would say that poetry is my first discipline.
  • Poetry teaches us how to deal with the economy of language, the concentration of language, the cautious use of metaphor.
  • Every great book contains matter that could be termed poetry. The Bible is a perfect example. So poetry, even if it's not what I'm doing, is my teacher.
  • One of my favorite quotations from Emily Dickinson is: "Tell truth / But tell it slant."
  • it was a difficult thing for a child growing up to remain fluent in two languages and to dwell in two completely different worlds at once.
  • Now, as a more mature person, I realize that keeping my Spanish was a great gift.
  • "Silent dancing" to me is reminiscent of the immigrant or migrant situation, where you are trying desperately to live your life fully, but you're silenced many ways because you are not seen or heard. That to me was an appropriate way to see our lives then. We were part of a silent and invisible group of people.
  • in my role as a teacher, I know who I am. But, of course, I look very Latina; I have an accent, and sometimes when I go places, people don't automatically assume, "Oh, an American citizen, probably an English professor." The first question is, "Where are you from?" And they're not satisfied if I say, "Athens, Georgia." That happens with great frequency.
  • No matter how American I may feel-and I feel that culturally I'm more an American woman than a Puerto Rican woman, just having lived in this country for so long-I'm always reminded that people do not see me that way. And basically you are really not only a product of who you think you are but of how other people see you. So if you always have to trace your ancestry for other people, then you're not exactly feeling like part of the group. I don't see that as a problem, but I also see it as determining or defining the new race issue in the United States. When the Germans and the Irish first started coming to the United States, for one generation people asked about their accents. The next generation blended in. There is no way that I'm ever going to blend in, even if I start speaking English with a southern accent. So the color issue is always present there, for Asian Americans, for Native Americans, for blacks, for Latinos-there is no blending in, no melting into the melting pot.
  • When you're an exotic and no threat, you're an interesting thing to have around; when there's a lot of you and you pose a problem, like "we don't want you in our neighborhood" or that sort of thing, the prejudice level rises. That's the basic thing I've learned in my lifetime.
  • for two years the manuscript was circulating around New York, and my agent was getting rejections like, "It's beautifully written, but who wants to read about poor Puerto Ricans?”
  • I think it was a couple of years after Gabriel García Márquez won the Nobel Prize and the so-called Latino boom began. All of a sudden people said, "Hey, these guys may have something important to say."
    • "When did you notice this change with publishers-when they finally started publishing Latinos?"
  • So my work is actually a response to the idea, like if you read my short story "Nada"-my mother's generation always had this idealized concept of the island as home and the only place where you could really be happy, like, "Oh, we were poor there, but at least we had the sun, or we had this and all this." Of course, I went back year after year, and of course I saw the sun, and it is a gorgeous island, but life was hard, difficult. So actually I don't have a nostalgic yearning for the island. I write about the dream of the island as opposed to the reality of the island.
  • In the United States, I was considered a Puertorriqueña; on the island, I was considered a little gringita.
  • You can call me anything you want, but don't keep me from doing anything I want.
  • I don't mind categories, but these publications are keeping me from being seen as I really am, which is a student of world literature and interested in many countries.
  • one year I was teaching world literary masterpieces, and I was beginning to feel frustrated because everybody had a speaking part except the women. Salome was the one who, shall we say, changed the life of John the Baptist, but she didn't get to speak. Neither did Judith. And why? How did they feel? I wanted to know.
  • That's the problem with categories. Once you're labeled, you have a hard time breaking out.
  • what's the difference between regional being the Southwest and regional being the South if the story is brilliant enough to be universal? Does it matter that Faulkner's universe was little? When he finished Absalom, Absalom, it wasn't about Mississippi; it was about the cosmos. So if a book like that is written by a Puerto Rican or a Native American, why should it continue to be taught as ethnic literature?
  • God is supposed to understand all languages. But it's like "silent dancing"-if everyone is acting like they don't understand you when you don't speak the language of the mainstream,
  • I don't write poems that address the social issues in a very overt or propaganda-driven way, but I feel every poem that I write is political because if you write and you're engaged with life, where you write about people who suffer as a result of societal problems, then in fact it is political.
  • the poem I wrote for my daughter is a warning that to deny your heritage is to deny half of your humanity.
  • I'm from the Emily Dickinson and Flannery O'Connor school of writing, where you write about your Amherst backyard or about a farm in Milledgevilk, and then you're actually writing about everything it means to be human.
  • I feel the poet does write on memory but... Wasn't it Aristotle who said the historian keeps the factual record of mankind and the poet writes the emotional history of mankind? I think you can read a history of Vietnam and know that so many men under the age of twenty were killed, or you can read Tim O'Brien and you can "feel" those deaths. O'Brien is preserving the emotional history of Vietnam. A historian is preserving the facts.
  • I guess I went from writing poetry as self-expression to writing poetry as self-discovery when I got a grasp of my own mortality. I think it may have to do with the death of my father, who died at a very early age.
  • I think that poetry, in general, after a certain point in a poet's life, has to do with the acknowledgment of mortality. And even the most joyful poems have to do with, "Yes, let's not forget that life is brief." Once I started dealing with grief in poetry, I discovered that I had found my way to poetry. I think that so many young poets are only writing about the joy of love and that sort of thing and don't understand that the great poetry, like Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle" and like Wordsworth's "Intimations" and "Tintern Abby," has all been a moment when the poet realizes that "this is my time to express what I have gathered in this brief life."
  • it was poetry and literature that led me to understand that to stifle someone else's emotional life is almost immoral, that you have to let people continue to live, and that grief is one of the great shackles. If you let grief hinder you, you can become trapped in it.

Quotes about Judith Ortiz Cofer edit

  • Judith Ortiz Cofer, in her autobiography in prose poetry, Silent Dancing, uses the double vision of her nomadic life between Puerto Rico and New Jersey to explore the dangers and delights, bitterness and confusion of female sexuality in Puerto Rican culture.

External links edit

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