Our thanks to Loretta Collins Klobah for bringing the sad news to our attention. Judith Ortiz Cofer (February 24, 1952-December 30, 2016) has passed away at the age of 64. An announcement from the Taylor Funeral Home in Louisville, Georgia: Taylor Funeral Home of Louisville announced the death and service of Mrs. Judith Ortiz Cofer, […]
Judith Ortiz Cofer was one of the first Puerto Rican women I had read. I remember the first time I got her book. A daughter of one of my mom’s coworkers lent it to me in a pile that included Nicholasa Mohr, Esmeralda Santiago, and Tato Laviera. Silent Dancing, pictured here, was one of my first exposures to a Boricua writing about boricuas. An aspiring writer, a poet coming of age on the East Coast, couched yet confined by temporary privilege while attending Deerfield Academy, reading this over break I believe my sophomore year, taught me of possibility.
On reading the book, and later Island Like You, which I bought years later, I imagined the possibility of what being a writer would be. The hunger for writers and teachers who looked like me would, in a few years return me to Chicago and normalize our intellectual and political possibilities. That we could write our return as well as write a way into making histories like ours relevant. I’ve become an adult where that’s normalized. A Boricua can win a Pulitzer for promoting the contribution of Caribbean immigrants. A Boricua can win a Golden Globe for rewriting unplanned pregnancy and familial support. Our resilience, in pop culture is being normalized.
Intellectually and culturally spoiled, this 2016 celebrity death hits me the hardest. Cofer is is one of the few Boricua writers I have not had the pleasure of meeting. I met Laviera when he was in Chicago; I was in line with Santiago at the National Puerto Rican Diaspora Summit this past April (I was encouraged by organizers to cut her in line because I was presenting; I was too star struck to apologize or let her go ahead of me). I’ve met countless others, less well known, who I now consider friends. The scholars that have paved the way for this queer Boricua have attended my presentations, encouraged my publications and given me critical advice.
So, I suppose I cry because of the strength of what she gave a fifteen year old girl who wanted to write her communities’ stories. I cry because I could never say thank you. Because you existed, I could imagine, I could have hope in being able to be here.