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Judith Ortíz Cofer


Judith Ortíz Cofer was born in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, on February 24, 1952. She was raised on the island and in Paterson, New Jersey, before her family finally settled in Augusta, Georgia. She received her BA in English from Augusta College in 1974 and her MA in English from Florida Atlantic University in 1977.

Cofer published several poetry collections, including A Love Story Beginning in Spanish (University of Georgia Press, 2005); The Latin Deli: Prose & Poetry (University of Georgia Press, 1993), winner of the Anisfield Wolf Book Award; and Reaching for the Mainland (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 1987). Cofer also published several works of prose, including the memoir The Cruel Country (University of Georgia Press, 2015). Her young adult book An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio (Orchard Books, 1995) received several distinctions, including The American Library Association Reforma Pura Belpre Medal and the Fanfare Best Book of the Year Award.

Cofer received numerous honors and awards, including grants from the Georgia Council for the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the University of Georgia Humanities Center, and the Florida Fine Arts Council, among others. She was the Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. She died on December 30, 2016.

Selected Bibliography

A Love Story Beginning in Spanish (University of Georgia Press, 2005)
The Year of Our Revolution: New and Selected Stories and Poems (Piñata Books, 1998)
Reaching for the Mainland and Selected New Poems (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 1995)
The Latin Deli: Prose and Poetry (University of Georgia Press, 1993)
Terms of Survival (Arte Público Press, 1987)

The Cruel Country (University of Georgia Press, 2015)
The Poet Upstairs (Piñata Books, 2012)
If I Could Fly (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011)
Call Me Maria (Orchard Books, 2004)
The Meaning of Consuelo (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003)
Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writers (University of Georgia Press, 2000)
An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio (Orchard Books, 1995)
Silent Dancing: a Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood (Arte Público Press, 1990)
The Line of the Sun (University of Georgia Press, 1989)

By This Poet


The Pleasures of Fear

We played a hiding game,
the son of my mother's friend and I,
until he chased me into the toolshed
and bolted the door from outside. It was there,
in the secret, moist dark, the child's game changed
to adventure. As I listened through the splintered wood
to his ragged breath, his weight pressing down
on the thin wood, making it groan, waiting
while I stood on the other side, I was
caught in time, thrilled and afraid by his power,
by his power to strike, and mine to yield.

I crouched close to the ground
inhaling the sour-sweet potpourri of rancid oil,
rotting wood, old leather, and rust. I could have died
right then and there, of anticipation,
and become one with the molecules
in the laden air. I was deliciously afraid of all
the invisible creeping, crawling dangers inhabiting
the luscious ground where I squatted to pee,
allowing impulse and need to fully overtake me,
inviting all the demons that reside in dark damp
hiding places into my most secret self.

Not since then has pleasure and fear in the dark
been so finely tuned in my mind, except perhaps
in moments of passion when all we know
is surrendered to the demands of skin and blood.

Then the pizzicato of the predictable afternoon shower
on that half remembered island, rain every day at four,
and her piercing voice, growing nearer,
the cutting slash of light. She had caught the boy
peeking through a crack at me doing what?
She did not want to know.

I was sent straight to the bath, as if
the delectable stink of danger I had discovered
could ever be washed off with plain soap and water.