Sheila Ortiz Taylor Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sheila Ortiz Taylor is often considered the first Chicana lesbian novelist. Her first and most acclaimed novel, Faultline, was republished in 1995 because of increased awareness of its importance not only in lesbian and Chicano literature but as a significant work of fiction. The novel has been published in British, German, Greek, Italian, and Spanish translations, and in 1995 film rights were bought by Joseph May Productions. The novel also won several awards, although it was often neglected by critics and mainstream reviewers.

Ortiz Taylor grew up in a Mexican American family in Southern California, an experience she records in Imaginary Parents. The book, a mixture of fact and fiction, is true to the spirit of her childhood in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Her older sister’s color prints accompany the text and represent a different version of the shared past. In her preface Ortiz Taylor writes that the book could be called autobiography, memoir, poetry, nonfiction, creative nonfiction, fiction, or codex (a manuscript book); she herself calls it an ofrenda, an offering of small objects with big meanings set out in order. The book reimagines the past and recreates the parents and extended family who have since died; it also provides an insightful Chicana perspective into what she calls the strange Southern California culture of the war years.

It was during the post-World War II years of the early 1950’s that Ortiz Taylor, then twelve or thirteen years old, realized that she wanted to write. She attended California State University at Northridge and graduated magna cum laude. She earned her M.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1964, and her Ph.D. in English from the same university in 1973 with a dissertation on “Form and Function in the Picaresque Novel.”

Taylor’s own novels often...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bruce-Novoa, Juan. RetroSpace: Collected Essays on Chicano Literature. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 1990. Asserts that Taylor’s writings show that there is no monolithic Chicano culture or literature and cites Faultline as the best novel written by a Chicana.

Bruce-Novoa, Juan. “Sheila Ortiz Taylor’s Faultline: A Third Woman Utopia.” Confluencia: Revista Hispánica de Cultura y Literatura 6 (Spring, 1991). A lengthy discussion about the novel.

Christian, Karen. “Will the ‘Real Chicano’ Please Stand Up? The Challenge of John Rechy and Sheila Ortiz Taylor to Chicano Essentialism.” Americas Review 20 (Summer, 1992). An excellent extended treatment of the importance of gay and lesbian writing in Chicano literature, with special attention to the style and content of Faultline.

Zimmerman, Bonnie. Safe Sea of Women. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990. Taylor is one of several writers discussed in this study of lesbian fiction in the late twentieth century.