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Judith Ortiz Cofer (February 24, 1952 – December 30, 2016[1]) was a Puerto Rican American author. 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.[2]

Early Life[change | change source]

Judith Ortiz Cofer

Judith Ortíz Cofer was born to Jesus Lugo Ortíz and Fanny Morot in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, on February 24, 1952. [3] She moved to Paterson, New Jersey with her family in 1956. Morot gave birth to Judith Ortíz Cofer when she was fifteen years old. [4] They believed they would have more opportunities for young parents in America. Despite Lugo’s passion for academia, he left school and joined the U.S. Navy. He was stationed in Panama when his daughter was born. He met Judith Ortiz Cofer for the first time two years later. It is evident that her family’s move from Puerto Rico to New Jersey influenced her writing. Call Me Maria is a young adult novel that was published in 2004. It focuses on a teenage girl’s transition from Puerto Rico to New York City. They often made back-and-forth trips between Paterson and Hormigueros. Ortíz Cofer reflects on these trips in her memoir, Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood, stating they were disruptive to both her education and her social life. While she was primarily educated in Paterson, New Jersey, she attended local schools in Puerto Rico while she was there. [5] While in Puerto Rico, Ortíz Cofer would stay in the home of her grandmother. Her transition between Puerto Rico and New Jersey greatly influenced her writing because she was able to contrast the two cultures. In 1967, when Ortíz Cofer was fifteen, her family moved to Augusta, Georgia, where she lived until her death in 2016. There, she attended Butler High School. Judith and her brother, Ronaldo, initially resisted the family's move South. Upon arriving in Georgia, however, Ortíz Cofer was struck by Augusta's vibrant colors and vegetation compared with the gray concrete and skies of city-life in Paterson.[6]

Became an Author[change | change source]

Ortiz Cofer received a B.A. in English from Augusta College, and later an M.A. in English literature from Florida Atlantic University. Early in her writing career, Ortiz Cofer won fellowships from Oxford University and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, which enabled her to begin developing her multi-genre body of work. Cofer was fluent in English and Spanish and worked as a bilingual teacher in the public schools of Palm Beach County, Florida, during the 1974-1975 school year. After she receiving her Master's degree and publishing her first collection of poems she became a lecturer in English at the University of Miami at Coral Gables. In 1984, Ortiz Cofer joined the faculty of the University of Georgia as the Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing. After 26 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate students, Ortiz Cofer retired from the University of Georgia in December 2013. Ortiz Cofer is best known for creative nonfiction works but she has worked in poetry, short fiction, children's books, and personal narrative. Cofer began her writing career with poetry, which she believed contained "the essence of language.” One of her earliest books was Peregrina (1986) which won the Riverstone International Chapbook Competition. She has received various awards such as grants from the Witter Bynner Foundation and the Georgia Council for the Arts, as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts for poetry, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and the Florida Fine Arts Council. In 2010 Ortiz Cofer was admitted to the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.

Major works[change | change source]

The Latin Deli[change | change source]

The Latin Deli is a collection of poetry, personal essays, and short fiction. These stories have one central subject, the Latinos who live within the United States. While these Latinos, while coming from different backgrounds, are all interconnected by their roots being embedded within through collective roots in Europe, Africa, and the New World. One of the major aspects of the work is that "the qualities uniformness and uniqueness are not mutually exclusive, and that the memories of the past and hopes for the future can be intertwined on a daily basis." Ortiz Cofer conveys this by using the lives of Puerto Ricans in a New Jersey barrio. This is directly parallel to her own upbringing in the United States.[7]

  1. Taylor Funeral Homes; Louisville, Georgia (no date). "Memorial Page for Judith Cofer (Ortiz)". "Mrs. Judith Ortiz Cofer, age 64 … died Friday morning, December 30, 2016 at her residence… Judith was a prolific literary writer in multiple genres, and received many awards for her writing and teaching." Retrieved December 30, 2016.
  2. Cite error: The named reference JOC Award was used but no text was provided for refs named (see the help page).
  3. Honoree - Georgia Writers Hall of Fame
  6. Cofer, Judith (June 2014). "Reading".
  7. "Judith Cofer Ortiz: "The Latin American Deli: An Ars Poetica"". Retrieved 2019-05-06.