Denise Chávez was born in the desert Southwest, and she writes about the Native Americans, Mexican Americans, Anglo-Americans, and others who provide the region’s rich cultural tapestry. Her works consistently focus on the strength and endurance of ordinary working-class Latino women.
Chávez had twelve years of Catholic schooling and started writing diaries and skits while still in elementary school. She received her bachelor of arts degree in theater from New Mexico State University in 1971, her master of fine arts in theater from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, in 1974, and her master of arts in creative writing from the University of New Mexico in 1984. During her school years she worked in a variety of jobs—in a hospital, in an art gallery, and in public relations. She also wrote poetry, fiction, and drama, always with emphasis on the lives of women. She taught at Northern New Mexico Community College, the University of Houston, Artist-in-the-Schools programs, and writers’ workshops.
Chávez has written numerous plays and literary pieces, which she often performed or directed, including a national tour with her one-woman performance piece. Her plays have been produced throughout the United States and Europe. Her plays (mostly unpublished), written in English and Spanish, include Novitiates (1971), The Flying Tortilla Man (1975), Rainy Day Waterloo (1976), The Third Door (1978), Sí, hay posada (1980), The Green Madonna (1982), La morenita (1983), El más pequeño de mis hijos (1983), Plague-Time (1984), Novena Narrativas (1986), and Language of Vision (1987).
The Last of the Menu Girls, interrelated stories about a young Chicana, and the novel Face of an Angel have established Chávez’s high reputation as a fiction writer. Both works address critical questions of personal and cultural identity with extraordinary wit and compassion. Chávez has a striking ability to create a sense of individual voice for her characters, and she makes that voice resonate for readers who may or may not be familiar with the places and people about whom she writes.