We were saddened to learn that Judith Ortiz Cofer, author, educator, member of the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame, and friend of the Press, passed away on December 30th. Over the years we published many books by Cofer and cherished the partnership and friendship. Below UGA Press Director Lisa Bayer offers a remembrance.
I was heartbroken to learn of Judith Ortiz Cofer‘s death on December 30th. The Press was wildly fortunate to publish her first novel, The Line of the Sun, in 1989. Judith told me that when her agent was initially shopping the project in New York, trade publishers told her that “Puerto Ricans don’t read.” So Judith eventually brought it to Malcolm Call, director of the University of Georgia Press, who told her that the Press didn’t publish fiction. Then he read the manuscript and changed his mind. And the rest is history.
Because of her own experience navigating a male-dominated Deep South campus and white-dominated literary world, Judith was a fierce advocate for writers of color, especially women. The first time I met her she was championing Toni Cade Bambara’s induction into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. I went on to serve as the editor for her final book, The Cruel Country, a haunting and beautiful memoir about grieving her mother’s death from cancer. In a turn of events that sounds taken from fiction, Judith was diagnosed with cancer while the book was in production. She so wanted to promote it to her many fans at AWP and in bookstore events and book fairs around the country. But her health wouldn’t allow it.
I saw Judith most recently last summer at a retirement party. She was radiant, tiny, perfectly turned out, and clearly so happy to be there among friends and former colleagues, back on the campus she loved. We talked about promoting the paperback edition of The Cruel Country, coming this spring. She wanted to do events in Athens, at Avid Bookshop, maybe give a lecture at the Chapel. Judith lived for her family and her writing. I will miss having lunch with her at “her” booth at DePalma’s downtown. I will miss her emails signed always with “Abrazos.” I will miss hearing about her grandson, Eli. I will miss her.
Lisa Bayer is the director of the University of Georgia Press.