At age 5, Cervantes's parents divorced and she moved with her mother and brother, Stephen Cervantes to her grandmother's house in downtown San Jose. Cervantes's early childhood was immersed in poverty. After graduation, Cervantes enrolled in San Jose Community College due to her guidance counselor's advice, despite her dreams of attending Yale University. She graduated with very high honors with an AS in Liberal Arts and an emphasis in Comparative Literature.
Cervantes started writing poetry at age 8 as an outlet to a compromising home situation and because she simply loved to write. While traveling with her musician brother to Mexico City in 1974, she performed for the first time to the Theater of the People of San Jose at the Quinto Festival de los Teatros Chicanos with the reading of "Refugee Ship." Her poem and presentation appeared in a Mexican newspaper, along with other journals and reviews.
“I can’t say there was any time in my life when poetry wasn’t the center of my life.” -Lorna Dee Cervantes in an interview with Fran Lozano
|Lorna and her brother, Stephen|
MANGO Publications: 30 Years Ago Today (2006 Article)
In 1981, Cervantes produced her own first collection of poems entitled Emplumada, which won the American Book Award a mere year later. "Emplumada" translates to "pen flourish" and "feathered," symbolizing poetry's concern with beauty and elegance to Cervantes's own obsession with language. Emplumada presents English and Spanish side-by-side, showing Cervantes’s own obsession with language and her attempt to come to terms with the two separate identities that define her.
To purchase Emplumada, click here.
After Cervantes’s mother was brutally killed in 1982, she was inspired to publish another collection of poems 9 years later, entitled From the Cables of Genocide: Poems of Love and Hunger. In these poems, Cervantes expresses her sadness but also the renewal and rebuilding of her damaged past. In these poems, her writing is stronger, more confident, and inherently expressive.
To purchase From the Cables of Genocide: Poems of Love and Hunger, click here.
Cervantes’s last collection of poems published, Drive: The First Quartet, came out in 2006. Martin Espada referred to her most recent poems as “a landmark work” (“Lorna Dee Cervantes”). According to Edith Vasquez, Cervantes does an excellent job presenting “female personas as survivors, interlocutors, visionaries, and leaders who assert agency in unexpected places and by unexpected means” (“Lorna Dee Cervantes”).
To purchase Drive: The First Quartet, click here.
Cervantes has won multiple awards over her career as a writer, including the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award, the Paterson Prize for Best Book of Poetry, and a Latino Literature Award. Her poetry has appeared in nearly 200 anthologies and textbooks and she has performed twice at the Library of Congress (Lorna Dee Cervantes Opens Her Pencil into Pixels- Poetry, Peace, Y Xicanisma). Today, she is the Director of the Creative Writing program at the University of Colorado-Boulder. She is currently in the process of writing a literary nonfiction entitled, I Know Why the Quetzals Die: An Education.