Early in Silent Dancing, which in 1991 won the PEN/Martha Albrand Special Citation for Nonfiction and was included in New York Public Library’s 1991 Best Books for Teens, Ortiz Cofer warns her readers that she is not interested in “canning” memories. Rather, like Woolf in Moments of Being(1976), she writes autobiographically to connect with “the threads of lives that have touched mine and at some point converged into the tapestry that is my memory of childhood.”
Silent Dancing is not an autobiography as such; it does not progress linearly from the moment of birth to the day before the final revision is done. It is instead a collection of thirteen stories and a preface, with eighteen poems scattered amid the stories. The book’s elements are interconnected but are also discrete. The sequence in which they are read need not be Ortiz Cofer’s sequence, although she obviously spent considerable thought on arranging the book’s disparate components as she moved toward publication.
“Casa,” the lead story, explains elements of the book’s genesis. The family has gathered, as it does every day between three and four in the afternoon, for café con leche with Mama, the term everyone uses in referring to Ortiz Cofer’s grandmother. In the comfortable parlor that Mama’s husband built to her exact specifications, drinking coffee together provides the adults with the pretext for spinning yarns,...
(The entire section is 423 words.)