Judith Ortiz Cofer Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

When she was three or four, Judith Ortiz Cofer, born in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, in 1952, began the routine that was to define her existence for a number of years. Because her father, J. M. Ortiz Lugo, was a career Navy man stationed on a ship from the Brooklyn Naval Yard in New York, Judith and her brother came with their mother, Fanny Morot Ortiz, to Paterson, New Jersey, where the family lived in “El Building,” a vertical barrio. When the father went on long cruises, the family returned to Hormigueros in the southwestern corner of Puerto Rico and stayed with Judith’s grandmother.

When she was nineteen, Judith Ortiz married Charles John Cofer, a businessman. The couple has a daughter, Tanya. Following her marriage, Ortiz Cofer continued her education at Augusta College, from which she received a B.A. in 1974. Three years later, she earned an M.A. from Florida Atlantic University. Ortiz Cofer attended Oxford University for part of 1977 on a scholarship from the English Speaking Union.

Fluent in English and Spanish, Ortiz Cofer worked as a bilingual teacher in the public schools of Palm Beach County, Florida, during the 1974-1975 school year. In 1978, master’s degree in hand, she was named an adjunct instructor in English at Broward Community College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The following year, she was appointed an instructor in Spanish at the same institution. During this period, 1978-1980, she was also an adjunct instructor in English at Palm Beach Community College.

In 1980, having published her first collection of poems, Latin Women Pray (1980), as a chapbook, Ortiz Cofer became a lecturer in English at the University of Miami at Coral Gables, staying there until 1984, when she joined the Department of English at the University of Georgia as an...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Ortiz Cofer is no ideologue. She is a skilled teller of tales, a credible shaper of characters. Her writing never pontificates. Instead, it leads readers to form their own ideologies about the tensions that living as a part of two cultures, one cold, the other warm, engenders. Ortiz Cofer writes with intense realism, softened only slightly by the high level of poetic insight that she brings to her prose and that sustains her poetry.

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Judith Ortiz Cofer did not begin writing for publication until after she had been in the United States for more than twenty years. During those years, however, she frequently returned to Puerto Rico to visit her extended family. Her writing is informed by her bicultural experiences: one in the urban apartment buildings in English-speaking New Jersey, where her father stressed the importance of learning American language and customs to succeed, and the other in the traditional island community where her mother and other Spanish-speaking relatives taught her not to forget her heritage.

Ortiz Cofer is bilingual, but she writes primarily but not exclusively in English. For example, her grandmother’s home, filled with...

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(Poets and Poetry in America)

Judith Ortiz Cofer was born Judith Ortiz in 1952 in Puerto Rico to J. M. Ortiz and Fanny Ortiz. While she was a child, her father joined the U.S. Navy. When he was posted to the Brooklyn Naval Yard, the family moved to Paterson, New Jersey, into a city neighborhood with many Jewish families and families originally from Puerto Rico. Ortiz Cofer’s family and the community were both strongly Catholic, and she attended Catholic high schools both in Puerto Rico and in the United States.

Traveling back and forth between Puerto Rico and New Jersey when she was young offered Ortiz Cofer the opportunity to experience both cultures and languages and develop the deep perceptions about these two cultures that have influenced her work. Her role as a bridge between her Spanish-speaking mother and the English-speaking community at school and beyond helped raise her cultural awareness. Her writing reflects her assimilation into one culture while keeping alive the knowledge and life force of another.

At age fifteen, Ortiz Cofer and her family moved to Augusta, Georgia. She received a B.A. in English from Augusta College (1974) and an M.A. from Florida Atlantic University (1977). While a graduate student, she studied abroad at Oxford University and wrote a thesis paper on Lillian Hellman’s southern plays.

After graduate school, Ortiz Cofer has worked as a teacher of English and of creative writing while pursuing her writings. She most often...

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