Hall of Fame Honorees
Judith Ortiz Cofer
Judith Ortiz Cofer was a critically acclaimed and widely published poet, novelist, and essayist. A longtime Georgian, she wrote extensively about the experience of being Puerto Rican and about her identity as a woman and writer in the United States. The author of seven books of poetry, Cofer has been called "a prose writer of evocatively lyrical authority."1 Her works are cited as some of the finest examples of contemporary Georgia writing by the Georgia Center for the Book, the Georgia Writers Association and the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
An honored Regents and Franklin Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Georgia where she taught literature and creative writing from 1984 until 2013, Judith Ortiz emigrated with her Puerto Rican family to Paterson, New Jersey, a few years after she was born, and in her teens she moved again, in 1967, to Augusta, Georgia. In Georgia she finished high school, one of only three minority students among two thousand -- the only Puerto Rican -- and then she graduated in 1974 from Augusta College, where she again was the only Puerto Rican and where she married John Cofer, a fellow classmate with Georgia roots.
In the late 1970s, she earned her masters degree in English literature at Florida Atlantic University, where she was inspired by the force of such women writers as Virginia Woolf and Lillian Hellman, and by the Georgia-born writers Flannery O'Connor and Alice Walker. Cofer began submitting and publishing poetry as she taught (often bilingually), and as she continued to be encouraged as a writer - this time by prestigious fellowships from Oxford University and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference -- she began building a body of work which would eventually evolve into a versatile combination of poetry, fiction, essays, and memoirs. Praising The Cruel Country (2015) upon its publication, writer Joy Castro called Cofer's memoir of the illness and death of her mother "a wise and generous memoir of exile, love, and homecoming." Considered one of the preeminent voices of Puerto Rican experience writing in English, Cofer has been anthologized many times, and hers was a career replete with an array of honors and recognized in influential anthologies of American writing. In addition to being included in such collections as Best American Essays, Best American Short Stories, The Norton Book of Women's Lives, and The Norton Introduction to Poetry, Cofer's writing has been praised in numerous encyclopedias of Latin American literature, and has been demanded by a growing audience for Spanish translations of her work in Latin America.
Cofer, who retired from the University of Georgia in 2013, lived for many years on a family farm outside Louisville, Georgia. She acknowledged her natural, ideal subject as the "infinite variety"2 of Puerto Rican experience - "I tell stories that recount the suffering and joy of the Puerto Rican emigrants of my experience, mainly women."3 Simultaneously, she also cherished her life as a Georgia writer, which she says came first by "el destino" and then by "osmosis."4 When her Pulitzer-Prize nominated prose-poetry narrative The Latin Deli was named one of the 25 books All Georgians Should Read in 2005, Cofer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "As a Puerto Rican Georgia writer, and as an educator, I feel I can be a model for students and show them there are different ways to be a Georgian."5
Cofer's essay collection Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer won the Georgia Writers Association's 2001 Georgia Author of the Year Award in creative nonfiction, and in both 2005 and 2008 the Georgia Center for the Book placed her works on its lists of "25 Books All Georgians Should Read:" The Latin Deli in 2005 and The Meaning of Consuelo in 2008. Her other published works include three novels: Call Me María (2004), The Meaning of Consuelo (2003), and the Pulitzer-Prize nominated The Line of the Sun (1989), her first work to be published by the University of Georgia Press. One of the earliest featured speakers of the Georgia Council for the Arts' Georgia Poetry Circuit tour in the late 1980s, Cofer published eight books of poetry, beginning with her chapbook Latin Women Pray (1980) through A Love Story Beginning in Spanish (2005). Examples of her work in other forms of prose and nonfiction include the essay collection Silent Dancing (1990), the prose/poetry The Latin Deli (1993), and her short story collection, An Island Like You.
In 2011, Cofer published her second young adult novel, If I Could Fly, and she published two children’s books in 2012. The Poet Upstairs, written by Ortiz Cofer and illustrated by Oscar Ortiz, is the tale of a meeting between a young girl and a poet and the special poem they create between them; Animal Jamboree: Latino Folktales is Ortiz Cofer’s collection of Puerto Rican folktales featuring animals learning valuable lessons.
Cofer died of cancer at her Georgia home on December 30, 2016.
Photo by Peter Frey courtesy of Judith Ortiz Cofer.
The following titles by Judith Ortiz Cofer are held by the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library:
Latin Women Pray. Ft. Lauderdale: Florida Arts Gazette Press, 1980.
Terms of Survival. Houston: Arte Publico, 1987.
The Line of the Sun. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989.
Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood. Houston: Arte Publico, 1990.
The Latin Deli. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993.
Reaching to the Mainland & Selected New Poems. Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Press, 1995.
An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio. New York: Orchard Books, 1995.
Bailando en Silencio. [Silent Dancing. Spanish.] Houston: Arte Publico, 1997.
The Year of Our Revolution. Houston: Pinata Books, 1998.
Sleeping with One eye Open: Women Writers and the Art of Survival. (Co-editor.) Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999.
Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000.
The Meaning of Consuelo. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2003.
Mujer Frente al Sol. [Woman in Front of the Sun. Spanish.] Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005.
A Love Story Beginning in Spanish: Poems. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005.
El Deli Latino. [The Latin Deli. Spanish.] Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006.
The Poet Upstairs (With Oscar Ortiz). Houston, TX: Pinata Books, 2012.
Animal Jamboree: Latino Folktales (With Natalia Rosales-Yeomans). Houston, TX: Piñata Books, 2012.
The Cruel Country. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015.
Judith Ortiz Cofer’s personal papers are held in the Manuscripts Collection of the Hargrett Library at the University of Georgia.