Tribute to Poet Judith Ortiz Cofer
I met Ms. Ortiz Cofer several years ago at a writer’s conference. I was impressed by her presentation and right away purchased her books. One of which is Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood. The essays contained therein were fascinating to me. Some events reminded me of my family and things they did to keep dancing in their new environment when they first moved to New York in the late 1949. Silent Dancing was awarded the 1991 PEN/Martha Albrand Special Citation for Nonfiction. Ms. Ortiz moved to New Jersey from Puerto Rico. In 1967 her family moved to Augusta, Georgia.
She was a poet, essayist, and beloved professor of English. After reading her poems I realized we had so much in common. She wrote about her childhood and growing up in a new culture after her family migrated to live in the United States. For me it was the opposite. I was born here and left to study in Puerto Rico. I also suffered from cultural shock. I had to learn many things about my parent’s homeland and culture and adapt to a new way of life. I have just started writing stories about my experiences and my family. I taught for many years and recently retired as well. She lived briefly in the New Jersey town I taught for many years.
“Among Cofer’s works were “The Line of the Sun,” a novel that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and she won an O. Henry Prize for the story “A Latin Deli.” Cofer’s works are also in English literature text books for high school students.”
Sadly, I learned that Ms. Ortiz Cofer died on December 30, 2016 at the age of 64 after battling cancer. She retired from The University of Georgia in 2013 and became ill shortly after. My favorite poems are in her collection of poems The Latin Deli. She was a true role model and I pray that she is resting in peace, silently dancing in heaven. My prayers go out to her husband and daughter.
Here is an excerpt of one of her poems:
“Blood tells the story of your life
in hearts as you live it;
bones speak the language of death,and flesh thins
with age when up
through the pores rises
the stuff of your origin.”