Ortiz Cofer is one of a number of Latina writers who rose to prominence during the 1980s and 1990s. Her stories about coming-of-age experiences in Puerto Rican communities outside of New York City and her poems and essays about cultural conflicts of immigrants to the U.S. mainland have made Ortiz Cofer a leading literary interpreter of the U.S.–Puerto Rican experience.
Ortiz Cofer claims to have inherited the art of storytelling from her abuelita ("grandmother"), a fact suggested in the powerful attributes of the grandmother character who appears in The Line of the Sun and many of her other narratives. "When my abuela sat us down to tell a story, we learned something from it, even though we always laughed. That was her way of teaching. So early on I instinctively knew storytelling was a form of empowerment, that the women in my family were passing on power from one generation to another through fables and stories. They were teaching each other to cope with life in a world where women led restricted lives." Ortiz Cofer's most powerful characters are Puerto Rican women who try to break away from restrictive cultural and social conventions or who develop survival strategies to deal with the sexism in their own culture.
Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood (1990) is a book of memories described as "stellar stories patterned after oral tradition." The volume also includes poems that highlight the narratives' major themes. Silent Dancing received the 1991 PEN/Martha Albrand Special Citation in Nonfiction and was awarded a Pushcart Prize. It was followed by The Latin Deli (1993), a combination of poetry, short fiction, and personal narrative. In these collections, as in her subsequent volumes, An Island Like You (1995), The Year of Our Revolution (1998), and Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer (2000), Ortiz Cofer continues to recall and explore through different genres the memories of her formative years. Woman in Front of the Sun, which won an award from the Georgia Writers Association, provides invaluable insights into the inner world of the author, what motivates her writing, and where she places herself in terms of the American mainstream and U.S. Latino literature. In her novel The Meaning of Consuelo (2003) Ortiz Cofer explores language and communication: communication between the title character and her schizophrenic sister, between men and women, English and Spanish.
Many of Ortiz Cofer's stories, poems, and personal essays describe the lives of Puerto Rican youths, straddling the Puerto Rican culture of their parents and a mainland culture consumed by its own prejudices, while asserting their own dignity and creative potential.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
The theme of male absence and women who wait is perhaps the major one touched on here. Also, there is the historical theme of Puerto Ricans and other minorities in the military as a way of life that both gives them mobility yet divides their families.
The colonization of Puerto Rico by the U.S. and the division of its population into island and mainland groups are reflected in the division of the family. The bilingual child is another result of the confluence of these two nations, reflected in the preoccupation with which language authority will accept from would-be participants.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
This is confessional poetry, but with a twist. The author walks a fine line between writing for her own group and writing for the general audience. Thus she introduces Spanish and some culture items from the island, but recontextualizes them into English and U.S. culture. The style becomes an intercultural hybrid.
There is the Puerto Rican audience that will bring to the poems a specific knowledge of cultural elements that they share with the poet. This audience will place the poem in a wider catalog of cultural references. The non-Puerto Rican audience must draw only from the information given, and will perhaps apply the situations to universal myths or archetypes.