Most notably, Judith Ortiz Cofer is recognized for her themes of assimilation and transformation. She has often returned to the story of a young adult whose move from Puerto Rico to the United States begins a process of cultural assimilation that coincides with spiritual, artistic, social, or romantic awakening. Her poetry often covers the topics of religion, women, history, family, loss, grief, and death. In her writings, Ortiz Cofer draws from a broad palette of the human experience and from her wide-ranging interests, ranging from the Bible and Homer to photography and anthropology. Her early influences include writers such as Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty.
In interviews, Ortiz Cofer often speaks about storytelling and how one can use language—especially poetic language—to discover and shape the meaning of one’s life. Her works relate the power of storytellers, including her grandmother and other women in her family as well as in history and mythology. Her experience speaking and writing in Spanish and English while growing up has shaped her views on language and given her a rich heritage of words and images from which to draw. Her poetry, while typically in English, incorporates Spanish words and phrases, though often with an immediate translation as in the title poem of The Latin Deli, in which she describes “slicing jamón y queso and wrapping it in wax paper/ tied with string: plain ham and cheese. . . .”
The Latin Deli
Ortiz Cofer’s combination of poetry, essays, and short stories in The Latin Deli touch on the challenges of growing up in a Puerto Rican family in the northeastern, urban United States. However, in the poetry of The Latin Deli, the primary themes are of spirituality, the power of language and storytelling, the power of women (“Las Magdalenas,” “Paciencia”), and grieving and loss—especially the loss of a father and a grandfather. In “Absolution in the New Year,” the speaker weaves in several of these themes as she forgives her long-dead father for reading her diary as a child. As she approaches the age that he was at the time,...
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