Campus News

Noted author Judith Ortiz Cofer receives SEC Faculty Achievement Award

Judith Ortiz Cofer

Athens, Ga. – Judith Ortiz Cofer, Regents and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, has been named the University of Georgia’s 2013 recipient of the Southeastern Conference Faculty Achievement Award.

Ortiz Cofer is a two-time Pulitzer-Prize nominee and the author of four critically acclaimed novels, several lauded books of poetry, essays and memoirs, as well as books for children. The award, which is administered by the SEC provosts, recognizes one faculty member from each of the SEC schools and includes a $5,000 honorarium.

“Professor Ortiz Cofer’s contributions to American literature and her work to inspire students make her a worthy recipient of the SEC Faculty Achievement Award,” said Jere Morehead, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Interest in her work extends well beyond this nation’s borders, which demonstrates the far-reaching impacts of our faculty in today’s interconnected world.”

Ortiz Cofer’s first collection of poems, “Peregrina” (1986), won the Riverstone International Chapbook Competition, and several more books and awards followed. Her first major work of prose fiction, “The Line of the Sun” (1989), was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and substantially broadened her audience. “Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood” (1990) received the PEN/Martha Albrand Special Citation in Nonfiction. Its title essay was selected for “The Best American Essays 1991,” while another essay in the collection, “More Room,” was awarded the Pushcart Prize, which recognizes the best short stories, poems and essays published by small presses. She received another Pulitzer Prize nomination for her 1993 prose and poetry collection, “The Latin Deli. An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio” (1995) was her first work for youth and was named among the best books of the year for young adults by the American Library Association.

To date, Ortiz Cofer has published 19 books, all still in print and many translated into Spanish as well as Dutch and Italian. Anticipated among her upcoming works is a book inspired by her life in Georgia tentatively titled “Peach Pit Corazon: Prose and Poetry.”

Her works appear in scholarly publications, such as The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review and The Georgia Review, as well as in widely read anthologies such as “The Norton Introduction to Literature,” “The Norton Introduction to Poetry” and “The Heath Anthology of American Literature.” In total, more than 200 of her poems, essays, short stories and novel excerpts have been selected for anthologies, textbooks and collections.

In 1995, she received the university’s J. Hatten Howard III award for faculty members who exhibit special promise in teaching Honors courses early in their careers. She is the 1998 recipient of the university’s Albert Christ-Janer Award, which recognizes “an outstanding body of nationally and internationally recognized scholarly or creative activities in the creative arts and humanities.” In 1999, she received the Franklin Professorship, which honors “versatile and long-term contributions to the success of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.” In 2006, she was named Regents professor, an honor bestowed by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents on “truly distinguished faculty whose scholarship or creative activity is recognized both nationally and internationally as innovative and pace-setting.”

Ortiz Cofer has introduced freshmen to the basics of college-level writing and closely mentored master of fine arts and doctoral students through the university’s creative writing program. She has taught creative writing to students from the university’s Honors program and accompanied students from the university’s Foundation Fellows program on a study abroad trip in which they read Greek poetry while surrounded by ancient ruins.

She regularly organizes undergraduate poetry readings at the university’s Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries, the Georgia Museum of Art and at off-campus galleries. She has served on the editorial board for the UGA Press and on the advisory boards for the university’s Willson Center for Humanities and Arts and for the university’s literary journal, The Georgia Review. Off campus, she has served on panels for the National Endowment for the Arts and judged the National Book Awards.

Many of her students have gone on to publish award-winning books of their own and teach at colleges and universities across the nation. In 2007, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs awarded Ortiz Cofer the coveted mentor achievement award. In 2012, two of her former students-Lorraine M. Lopez, an associate professor at Vanderbilt University, and Molly Crumpton Winter, a professor at California State University at Stanislaus-published a book titled “Rituals of Movement in the Writing of Judith Ortiz Cofer” that collects analytical essays on her work written by award-winning poets, fiction writers and literary scholars.

In 2010, Ortiz Cofer was inducted into the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame and in 2011 was honored with the Georgia Governor’s Award in the Humanities. Her manuscripts and papers were officially archived and made available for research at the university’s Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 2012.

The impact of Ortiz Cofer’s work also extends into K-12 education. Her book “Lessons from a Writer’s Life” (2011), which was created for use in high school classrooms, encourages youth to enhance their language and writing skills to better express themselves and build richer lives. In her recent young-adult novels “Call Me Maria” (2004) and “If I Could Fly” (2011), Latina youth thrive despite broken families and other social stresses. The bilingual picture books “A Bailar! Let’s Dance!” (2011) and “The Poet Upstairs” (2012) engage even younger audiences and help instill a love of reading.

Ortiz Cofer has traveled widely to share her passion for the written word. Since 1996, she has delivered more than 175 presentations, including readings at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., and a keynote address at the Eudora Welty Writers’ Festival. Her international recognitions include invited readings and lectures at the German universities of Tubingen, Erlangen and Heidelberg, a reading and lecture tour of several cities in Spain sponsored by the Federico Garcia Lorca Foundation and a residency at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy.

The SEC Faculty Achievement Awards honor professors with outstanding records in teaching and scholarship who serve as role models for other faculty and students. SEC Faculty Achievement Award winners become their university’s nominee for the SEC Professor of the Year Award, the winner of which receives an additional $15,000 honorarium. The awards were first presented in 2012, and the SEC is thought to be the first National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I conference to honor faculty for their achievements in research and scholarship, completely unrelated to athletics or student-athletes.