In This Article Lorna Dee Cervantes

  • Introduction
  • Primary Texts
  • Reference Works
  • Biography and Interviews
  • Cervantes and Other Writers
  • Teaching Cervantes

American Literature Lorna Dee Cervantes
by
Leigh Johnson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 04 October 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0142

Introduction

Lorna Dee Cervantes was born 6 August 1954 in San José, California. Her working-class family was of mixed Mexican and Chumasch Indian heritage. Much of her early childhood was spent with her mother, who spoke English exclusively, and her bilingual grandmother. In 1970, she established Mango Publications to support Chicana writers. The press was instrumental in increasing the availability of and interest in Chicana poetry and prose. In addition to her work as a publisher in the Chicano movement, she went to Mexico in 1974, where she had a breakthrough reading of her poem “Refugee Ship.” The interest in this poem is often described as one of her first critical successes, in that it called attention to the Chicana political condition in the United States. More attention came in 1981 with the publication of Emplumada, which won the American Book Award in 1982. Cervantes’s From the Cables of Genocide: Poems of Love and Hunger (1991) is often described as a dark revelation of the ways that people respond to personal and national trauma; partly a response to the murder of Cervantes’s mother, and partly a response to the global and political violence of the 1980s, the volume connects themes of transnational violence to individual bodies. Cervantes continues to be an activist, to teach, to lecture, and to write. Her 2006 collection Drive: The First Quartet promises more to come (as she claimed it is the first of four volumes planned). This volume is a wide-ranging set of poems and artwork that creates an overwhelming sensory experience. Her most recent work, Ciento: 100 100-Word Love Poems (2011), has received good reviews for its approach to writing love poems for others. Cervantes’s poems are widely anthologized in not only Chicano/Chicana and Latino/Latina poetry collections, multicultural anthologies, and women’s poetry collections, but also the Norton and Heath Anthologies of American Literature. The vast number of anthologies in which she has been included speak to the scope, appeal, and accessibility of her work. While she directed the creative writing program at University of Colorado-Boulder for many years, she most recently was a Regents’ Lecturer at University of California-Berkeley. Notably, she is the subject of a recent book-length study, an honor accorded to few Chicana poets.

Primary Texts

Cervantes’s works are collections of poetry. Her 1981 breakout volume, Cervantes 1981 (Emplumada), contains several widely anthologized poems. The follow-up collection, Cervantes 1991 (From the Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger), deals with global concerns. Political concerns appear again in Cervantes 2005 (Y la tierra no los olvidó/And the Earth Did Not Forget Them). Cervantes 2006 (Drive: The First Quartet) is an ambitious five-book-in-one project that heralds three more large projects to follow. Cervantes 2011 (Ciento) is a less anthologized work but contains striking love poems. Cervantes’s blog, Lornadice, contains some unique poems and promotion of readings and other work.

  • Cervantes, Lorna Dee. Emplumada. Pittsburg, CA: University of Pittsburg Press, 1981.

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    Cervantes’s first book of poetry, Emplumada, garnered, and continues to garner, extensive critical and popular reception. It won the American Book Award in 1982. The volume contains the widely anthologized “Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway” and “Poem for the Young White Man . . .” Divided into three sections, the poems articulate a Chicana identity.

  • Cervantes, Lorna Dee. From the Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger. Houston, TX: Arte Publico, 1991.

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    These poems are political, taking on Oliver North to the Seven Sisters, in an attempt to voice a feminist vision of anti-violence. The collection won the Paterson Poetry Prize in 1992. Divided into four sections, the volume uses concrete imagery of mountains to create some of the most powerful poems.

  • Cervantes, Lorna Dee. Y la tierra no los olvidó /And the Earth Did Not Forget Them. San Antonio, TX: Wings Press, 2005.

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    A limited edition chapbook (twenty pages) of poems Cervantes deems too political for regular publication. Currently out of print. Plays on Tomas Rivera’s title And the Earth Did Not Devour Them.

  • Cervantes, Lorna Dee. Drive: The First Quartet. San Antonio, TX: Wings Press, 2006.

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    Essentially, a collection of five books of poetry in one; Cervantes claims that each section can be approached as a stand-alone or in conversation with others. The book has beautiful illustrations and poems, making it a multisensory experience.

  • Cervantes, Lorna Dee. Ciento: 100 100-Word Love Poems. San Antonio, TX: Wings Press, 2011.

    E-mail Citation »

    The book is whimsical and constrained by the parameters enacted by Cervantes on herself in these poems. The project, initiated on her blog, was to write poems at the request of strangers and friends to express some aspect of love in a hundred words. The title is a play on the Spanish “ciento” as “hundred” and “siento” as “feeling.”

  • Lornadice.

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    Cervantes’s personal blog promotes her poetry projects and readings, and contains poems not published elsewhere. It also gives insight into her more recent writing process.

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