Latino Literature in America

By Bridget Kevane | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

The Fiction of Judith Ortiz Cofer: The Line of the Sun (1989)

Judith Ortiz Cofer was born in the western town of Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, in 1952. When her father joined the navy, the family moved to Brooklyn, New York. In 1955, they moved to Paterson, New Jersey, where the early years of Ortiz Cofer’s childhood were spent. Whenever her father was away on long trips, Ortiz Cofer’s mother would return with her children to Puerto Rico. What most influenced Ortiz Cofer on these frequent returns to the tropical island were the stories she heard. While braiding her granddaughters’ hair, Ortiz Cofer’s grandmother would tell stories about the family and the traditions and myths of Puerto Rico (Ortiz Cofer Silent Dancing 14–15). Depending on her audience and the moral lesson she wanted to convey, Ortiz Cofer’s grandmother would tell the same story differently each time. Storytelling, Ortiz Cofer discovered, is not only for entertainment, but to preserve cultural memories and to teach lessons: “I give credit to the women in my family for giving me this lesson and some of the original stories that I used” (Kevane and Heredia 116). In her work, Ortiz Cofer continually calls upon the craft of telling stories through the matriarchal line—mothers, grandmothers, and daughters gathered in the domestic spaces of the home, the kitchen, or the porch to tell, to listen, and to learn from a storyteller. Although los cuentos, oral stories, form the backbone of her poetry, essays, and novel, what ultimately matters in storytelling, Ortiz Cofer learned from her grandmother, is the poetic truth. Ortiz Cofer describes the poetic truth as the attempt to communicate the emotional substance of a story rather than the exact photographic memory of it (Kevane and Heredia 116). Aside from the importance of poetic

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