Gloria Anzaldua

Gloria Anzaldua was an American of Chicana ancestory who was known as a poet, author, cultural theorist, feminist, and political activist. She published seminal works on gender, sexuality, race, and class. She was also among the first Chicana writers to openly identify herself as being a lesbian.

Born in South Texas in the Rio Grande Valley to sharecropper/field-worker parents on September 26, 1942, Anzaldua assisted her parents and family by working in the fields during her time at high school and college. She gained a B.A. in English, Secondary Education and Art at Pan American University, and an M.A. in Education and English at the University of Texas. She taught pre-school and special education, later becoming a university instructor of Chicana studies, creative writing and feminist studies at several universities. These included the University of California Santa Cruz, Vermont College of Norwich University, the University of Texas at Austin, San Francisco State University, and Florida Atlantic University. She traveled around the world conducting writing workshops and was also a contributing editor to Sinister Wisdom, the feminist literary journal.

One of Anzaldua's best-known works is Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, first published in 1987. The book is a compilation of essays and poems on the theme of identity, exploring issues of estrangement, whether culturally, socially, racially or gender-based. "Mestiza" refers to a woman of mixed parentage, especially the daughter of a Spanish American and an American Indian. The "borderlands" refers to the border between Mexico and the United States and the cultural and linguistic barriers faced by Chicanas. The work also touches upon the plight of lesbians in a straight world, migrant workers, women in Hispanic culture, and the Aztec religion. Anzaldua writes in a lyrical mixture of Spanish and English, weaving historical with personal narrative. The book has been attacked by some critics for its underlying anger. The critics claim that the writing suffered as a result of overly strong emotional input. Borderlands/La Frontera was selected as one of the 38 best books of 1987 by Library Journal and as one of the 100 best books of the century by Hungry Mind Review and the Utne Reader.

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, published in 1981, was another of Anzaldua's works that brought her critical acclaim. The anthology, which Anzaldua edited together with Cherrie Moraga, features essays, poems, short stories, creative writings and autobiographical pieces. The authors were women from different ethnicities – African American, Native American, Asian American, and Latina – who were pushing for change in both academia and society as a whole. The book has frequently been quoted by feminist theorists, and is seen as a seminal work of "Second Wave" feminist thought. It won the 1986 Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award.

Anzaldua's other anthologies that deal with similar themes are Making Face Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color and This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation. The former was published in 1990 and features writings by famous feminists, academics, students, activists and artists, and includes a collection of creative pieces and theoretical essays. This Bridge We Call Home, published in 2002, was co-edited by AnaLouise Keating and contains personal narratives, textual collage, theoretical essays, fiction, letters, poetry and artwork from both black and white women in the United States and beyond. It looks at issues such as class, racism, homophobia, the politics of identity and the building of communities, "Third Wave" feminism, issues of transgendering, lesbian mothering and pregnancy, Native sovereignty, Jewish identities, Arab-American stereotyping, surviving academe and spiritual activism.

Anzaldua's use of both English and Spanish in her writings, with variations of those languages, and the inclusion of fragmented contributions in her edited anthologies, has made her works difficult for some to comprehend. However, Anzaldua claimed that this difficulty mirrors the struggle faced by feminists to have their ideas heard in a patriarchal society.

Anzaldua died on May 15, 2004, at the age of 61 from complications associated with diabetes. She had been working on her doctoral thesis in literature at the time of her death. The doctorate was awarded posthumously the following year by the University of California, Santa Cruz.

During her lifetime, Anzaldua won a number of awards for her lesbian activism and her published works. In 2001 she received the American Studies Association Lifetime Achievement Award.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Coming into Play: An Interview with Gloria Anzaldua
Reuman, Ann E.
MELUS, Vol. 25, No. 2, Summer 2000
Backtalk: Women Writers Speak Out
Donna Perry.
Rutgers University Press, 1993
Librarian’s tip: "Gloria Anzaldua" begins on p. 19
Hispanic-American Writers
Harold Bloom.
Chelsea House, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "Crossing Borders: An Aesthetic Practice in Writings by Gloria Anzaldua" begins on p. 195
The Feminist Poetry Movement
Kim Whitehead.
University Press of Mississippi, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Four "Survival as Form in the Work of Gloria Anzaldua and Irena Klepfisz"
Significant Contemporary American Feminists: A Biographical Sourcebook
Jennifer Scanlon.
Greenwood Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Gloria Anzaldua (1942-)" begins on p. 14
Identity Poetics: Race, Class, and the Lesbian-Feminist Roots of Queer Theory
Linda Garber.
Columbia University Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Six "'Caught in the Crossfire between Camps': Gloria Anzaldua"
Metaphors of a Mestiza Consciousness: Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera
Aigner-Varoz, Erika.
MELUS, Vol. 25, No. 2, Summer 2000
U.S. Latino Literature: A Critical Guide for Students and Teachers
Harold Augenbraum; Margarite Fernández Olmos.
Greenwood Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 12 "In Context: Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza"
Mappings: Feminism and the Cultural Geographies of Encounter
Susan Stanford Friedman.
Princeton University Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "Feminist Mestizaje: Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands" begins on p. 93
Gloria Anzaldua's Queer Mestisaje
Barnard, Ian.
MELUS, Vol. 22, No. 1, Spring 1997
(Out)Classed Women: Contemporary Chicana Writers on Inequitable Gendered Power Relations
Phillipa Kafka.
Greenwood Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of Gloria Anzaldua in multiple chapters
Culture and Difference: Critical Perspectives on the Bicultural Experience in the United States
Antonia Darder.
Bergin & Garvey, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of Gloria Anzaldua in multiple chapters
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