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Classical 91.7-Arte Público Press Author of the Month: Lucha Corpi

Author Lucha Corpi has been selected as this month’s Classical 91.7/Arte Público Press Author of the Month. In the next installment of a series of monthly features, Classical 91.7’s Eric Ladau spoke with Ms. Corpi.


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For Lucha Corpi, art has always meant activism. As a woman, a Hispanic, an immigrant and a mother, she has always found herself breaking down barriers in both life and literature.

Corpi was born in 1945 in Jáltipan, Veracruz, Mexico, a small tropical village on the Gulf of Mexico into a community that fostered creativity, performances and an appreciation for music, poetry and storytelling.

In 1964, she married and moved with her husband to Berkeley, California, a city in the throes of the students’ Free Speech Movement, which ignited the most turbulent decade in the history of the University of California-Berkley campus. It also coincided with the inception of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement in the southwestern United States.

Following an emotionally devastating divorce in 1970, Corpi found herself alone and in pain, with no family except her young son and very few friends. She turned to writing simply to get hold of her feelings, to face her contradictions and keep chaos at bay.

Her initial writing forays led to the exploration of poetry in Spanish as an outlet for her creativity. In 1970, she received a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship for poems later included in Palabras de mediodia / Noon Words (Fuego de Aztlán Publications, 1980; bilingual edition Arte Público Press, 2001). Her first collection of poems appeared in Fireflight: ThreeLatin American Poets (Oyes, 1976), and a third poetry collection followed: Variaciones sobre una tempestad / Variations on a Storm(Third Woman Press, 1990).

During that same decade, Corpi resumed her university studies, which had been interrupted by her marriage and supporting her husband while he studied. The UC-Berkeley campus provided an excellent forum for her political activism. Among other pursuits, Corpi was one of five founding members of the Aztlán Cultural, an arts service organization that years later would merge with Centro Chicano de Escritores (Chicano Writers Center). She also joined the Comité Popular Educativo de la Raza, an organization of parents, students and teachers in Oakland that sought to establish bilingual child care centers and other programs in the city’s unified school district.

After her first collection of poetry appeared, Corpi experienced a long and personally worrisome poetic silence. To ease the tension, she turned to prose, penning several award-winning short stories. In 1984, she wrote her first story in English and her first English-language novel, Delia’s Song, was published by Arte Público Press in 1989.

In 1990, Corpi was twice honored: she was awarded a Creative Arts Fellowship in fiction by the City of Oakland, and she was named poet laureate at Indian University Northwest.

Death at Solstice by Lucha CorpiThe publication of Eulogy for a Brown Angel: A Mystery Novel (Arte Público Press, 1992) was the culmination of a life-long dream. The novel won the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award and the Multicultural Publishers Exchange Best Book of Fiction. Cactus Blood (Arte Público Press, 1995) is Corpi’s second mystery novel featuring Chicana detective Gloria Damasco in which Hispanic culture and social issues texture a suspenseful search for a ritualistic assassin. The publication of Black Widow’s Wardrobe (Arte Público Press, 1999) rounded out the trilogy known as The Gloria Damasco Series. In between the publication of these works of fiction, she compiled and edited Máscaras (Third Woman Press, 1997), a collection of essays on writing by prominent Chicana and Latina authors.

Fans disappointed that The Gloria Damasco Series has come to an end can turn to Corpi’s first mystery novel in a new series, Crimson Moon: A Brown Angel Mystery (Arte Público Press, 2004).

Weaving the student movements at Berkeley, a serial rapist within the government’s ranks, a militant Chicano brown power group in Denver, and even the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico, Corpi has once again penned an intriguing thriller that revisits one of the most disturbing chapters for the American psyche: the civil rights struggles and student revolts during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Another book in the series, Death at Solstice, is forthcoming from Arte Público Press in August of 2009.

In addition to poetry and mystery novels, Lucha Corpi also writes for children. In 1997, she published her first bilingual picture book, Where Fireflies Dance / Ahí, donde bailan las luciérnagas (Children’s Book Press), and The Triple Banana Split Boy / Diente dulce (Arte Público Press) will appear in 2009.

Corpi holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from UC-Berkley and an M.A. in World and Comparative Literature from San Francisco State University. A tenured teacher in the Oakland Public Schools Neighborhood Centers Program for 30 years, she retired in 2005.

Arte Público Press is the nation’s largest and most established publisher of contemporary and recovered literature by U.S. Hispanic authors. Based at the University of Houston, Arte Público Press, Piñata Books and the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage project provide the most widely recognized and extensive showcase for Hispanic literary arts and creativity. For more information, please visit

In the next installment of a series of monthly features, Classical 91.7’s Eric Ladau spoke with Ms. Corpi about her works.