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Author Judith Ortiz Cofer at Calhoun College Writers' Conference, April 11, 2013

Posted: Apr 03, 2012

Latina writer and storyteller Judith Ortiz Cofer will be speaking at Calhoun Community College's 12th annual Writers' Conference on Thursday, April  11, at 9:30 a.m. in the Aerospace Training Center. She will speak again at 7 in the evening at the Princess Theatre. Both programs are free and open to the public. John C. Calhoun Community College is located on Highway 31 just north of Decatur, Alabama.

Judith Ortiz Cofer spent the first four years of her life in Puerto Rico, the country of her birth. In 1956, she moved with her family to Paterson, New Jersey, not into the barrio but into a mixed community that was primarily Jewish. In Paterson, Cofer attended private Catholic school until she was fourteen at which time her parents moved to Georgia. Cofer attended Butler High School in Augusta, Georgia.

Who are you, Cofer seems to be asking herself early in her career, and where do you belong if you are not Puerto Rican or American, not Yankee or Southern, and if you are Catholic not protestant or Jewish? The answer, Cofer reveals in a book of essays about becoming a writer entitled Woman In Front of the Sun (2000), is that you discover yourself through writing and you re-create yourself, as it were.
Today Cofer knows who she is, and she has claimed her identity as a Puerto Rican , an American, a successful author, and a professional woman. She may have to sleep with one eye open, as does the female heroine of one of her Puerto Rican tales who has stolen secrets that are denied to women, but such a condition is far more desirable than eating of the sleep-inducing fruit. "Some women eat sleep-inducing figs early in their lives," Cofer writes. "The writer recognizes the poisoned fruit. She may pretend to sleep...but she knows what it happening around her all the time."
Women must claim their rightful place---both as equal human beings and as writers---Cofer assures us. Taking what is not freely offered requires "pelotas." Cofer suggests that women must develop a kind of macho in order to move beyond the social, psychological, and cultural confines and fully express themselves as individuals and as artists.

Judith Cofer is the author of A Love Story Beginning in Spanish: Poems (2005); Call Me Maria (2006), a young adult novel; The Meaning of Consuelo (2003), a novel; Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer (2000), a collection of essays; An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio (1995), a collection of short stories; The Line of the Sun (1989), a novel; Silent Dancing (1990), a collection of essays and poetry; two books of poetry, Terms of Survival (1987) and Reaching for the Mainland (1987); and The Latin Deli: Prose and Poetry (1993). 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."

Cofer received a PEN/Martha Albrand Special Citation in non-fiction for Silent Dancing, and she received the Anisfield Wolf Book Award for The Latin Deli. She has also 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. The Year of Our Revolution: New and Selected Stories and Poems received a Paterson Book Prize by the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College.

Cofer 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. In 2010 she was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame..

Currently, Cofer is the Franklin Professor of English at the University of Georgia in Athens. 

----by Penne J. Laubenthal





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