Lorna Dee Cervantes Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Lorna Dee Cervantes was born in 1954 in San Francisco and moved to San Jose (the setting for several of her best-known poems) after her parents’ divorce in 1959. Her ethnic identification is not only Mexican American but also Native American, and she draws on this dual heritage in her poetry. She began writing poetry at an early age and first came to notice reading “Refugee Ship” at a drama festival in Mexico City in 1974. Her poems began to appear in Chicano journals such as Revista Chicano-Riquena and Latin American Literary Review, and in 1981, the University of Pittsburgh Press published her first volume of poetry, Emplumada, to widespread praise.

Cervantes gained her B.A. from San Jose State University in 1984, studied for four years as a graduate student in the history of consciousness program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has taught creative writing at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In addition to her academic position, Cervantes has done a good deal of editorial work, encouraging other Chicano writers, and has read her poetry at numerous national and international literary festivals.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although Lorna Dee Cervantes (sur-VAHN-teez) grew up in an urban, working-class barrio, she was raised to speak English because of her family’s fear of racism. As a result, gender issues and ethnicity and language issues play major roles in her poetry. In keeping with such themes, Cervantes describes herself as a Chicana poet, with all the ethnic, gender, and language markers expressed or implied. Furthermore, she means that description to be subversive. If societies label subgroups and individuals, when a group or individual self-defines, it is an exercise of power, defying the society, which leads to self-determination, an act historically denied to women and members of minority ethnic groups.

Cervantes notes that women and Chicanos’ common experiences and challenges are in the first case due to machismo and patriarchy, and in the second due to racial prejudice and economic exploitation. This unites either group but alienates it from other groups. While the visionary power of poetry can invoke an idealized, utopian world, the real world is beset by social problems, making social revolution necessary. Poetry serves Cervantes as a form of resistance, another means of subversion. She employs narrative poems to represent the real world of conflicts and lyrical poetry for contemplation and meditation. The former deal most specifically with ethnicity and gender, particularly male-female sexual relationships. The lyrical poems frequently bemoan the...

(The entire section is 525 words.)