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Lucha Corpi

We Chicanos are like the abandoned children of divorced cultures. We are forever longing to be loved by an absent neglectful parent - Mexico - and also to be truly accepted by the other parent - the United States. We want bicultural harmony. We need it to survive. We struggle to achieve it. That struggle keeps us alive.

          — Black Widow's Wardrobe

Biography / Criticism

Poet, novelist, and children's book writer Lucha Corpi was born in a small town in Mexico called Jaltipan in the state of Veracruz, in 1945. She came to Berkeley, California as a young wife and student at the age of 19. Along with having a child named Arthur, she continued her education and received degrees from UC-Berkeley and San Francisco State University. She currently lives in Oakland, California and has been a tenured teacher in the Oakland Public Schools Neighborhood Centers Program since 1977.

Corpi is the recipient of numerous awards and citations, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Prize in fiction, and the Multicultural Publishers Exchange Book Award of Excellence in Adult Fiction. She was president of the Centro Chicano de Escritores (Chicano Writers Center), and she is also a member of the international feminist mystery novel circle, Sisters in Crime. Corpi's works include two books of poetry, Palabras de Mediodia/Noon Words and Variaciones Sobre una Tempsted/Variations on a Storm, a children's book, Where Fireflies Dance/Ahi, Donde Bailen los Luciernagas, the novel Delia's Song, and four mystery novels, Crimson Moon, Eulogy for a Brown Angel, Cactus Blood, and Black Widow's Wardrobe, from the Gloria Damasco series. She is also the editor of Mascaras, which contains works from 15 Latina writers.

Corpi says she uses her books "to study all forms of racism, from the very blatant -- police harassing someone just because they're Mexican American -- to the more insidious racism inside our own families" (Beitiks). She follows the stories of women and poor people, immigrant struggles, and of historical/mythical figures. Corpi describes her reason for writing as, "I can remember my grandmother saying, 'There is no justice in this world. ' I think that's why I write--to bring justice into the world" (Beitiks). Corpi uses both Spanish and English in her works. When writing poetry, she uses Spanish, but when writing fiction, she primarily uses English.

Originally published in 1980, Palabras de Medioda/Noon Words, helped to firmly establish Corpi as a Chicana poet. The poetry was written in Spanish, and Catherine Rodriguez-Nieto translated it into English. Reissued in 2001, this book explores personal feelings about the role of women, themes of death and love, and the myth of La Malinche, to name a few. In the preface of the novel, Tey Diana Rebolledo writes, "This book of poems is a clear lyrical narrative of a woman's struggle against silence and of the desire to express herself" (xviii). Within the poetry of the book, Corpi incorporates into her verse ideas of daily-life experiences, consciousness and feeling, and actors on the stage of history.

Her second book of poetry, published in 1990, is entitled Variaciones Sobre una Tempsted/Variations on a Storm. This book proves that Corpi's greatest talent lies in verse. Unfiltered by the standards of a novel, Corpi's poetry is a composition of words that are arranged carefully enough to hide a ghost. At times, it seems that that is what Corpi does. Behind her poetry lies a history of passion and pain. Although it may be history, it is alive, and very much so in her writing. Corpi has the ability to project her own personal feelings as one woman onto a larger scale that encompasses her Mexican heritage. The poetry, written in Spanish and translated into English by Catherine Rodriguez-Nieto, is constructed in such a way that it will keep you walking through it in order to find its true depths.

Lucha Corpi unites imagination with the memories of childhood in her charming children's book Where the Fireflies Dance/ Ahi, Donde Bailen los Luciernagas. In this book, she stresses the importance of music, storytelling, and family in her life, and how these things have helped her to find a path to her own destiny. Her story begins when, one night as a child, her main character and main character's brother venture into the long deserted house of a Mexican revolutionary and local hero, Juan Sebastian. In a folkloric tale, the grandmother of the two children explains how this heroic man followed his "destiny" to fight and ultimately die for the independence of Mexico. The book has English and Spanish text. The vibrant illustrations by Mira Reisberg are inspired by Mexican folk art and bring a vivid presence to the characters of the story.

Corpi's first novel is Delia's Song, published in 1989. It is a gripping narrative of a young Chicana's struggle in the trying times of the Civil Rights Movement. The novel tells of how, after growing up in a male-oriented Chicano family that always put her second to her brothers, Delia breaks from this life and moves to the University of California at Berkeley, only to find there a much more hostile form of oppression. She becomes part of a student organization that challenges an institution that doesn't seem to recognize them. This is all told from a distinct female perspective. The story is written in the third-person narrative point of view, in which Corpi uses a stream-of-consciousness writing style to form a dramatic expression of the painful, fearful, and joyful thoughts of her main character. Not only does Delia face the prospects of love amidst all the student action, but she also copes with the pain of loss, and its ever-present possibility. Years later, she earns a doctorate but gains no real sense of progress in either her political or her romantic life. The settings of the story give Corpi an opportunity to poignantly show Delia's ability to empower herself as an assertive woman, capable of action on both fronts-- society and in her personal life.

In 1992, Corpi published her first mystery novel, Eulogy for a Brown Angel. In this novel, the Chicana feminist detective Gloria Damasco is born. This novel begins with Gloria and her friend Luisa Cortez finding a four-year-old boy dead during a Chicano Civil Rights march in Los Angeles in 1970. After having a run-in with a killer that puts her life in danger, and realizing her need to move on with her life and get back to her family, Gloria puts the case temporarily behind her. Eighteen years later, after her husband has died and her child has grown up, Gloria gets back on the case again, this time to solve it for good. An interesting thing about Gloria is her "dark gift" that allows her to dream and see answers to the puzzles before her. By listening to what her dreams and intuition tell her, Gloria defies the feeling/reason binary by complicating how she gets her answers to solve crimes. Gloria also deals with numerous political issues in the context of this mystery, including police brutality (during the march), the clash of feminism and Chicano nationalism, class, poverty, gangs, and the position of women in motherhood. In this way, the novel is about much more than just the mystery; Corpi uses the work as a commentary about social institutions and values.

Cactus Blood is the second mystery by Lucha Corpi featuring Gloria Damasco. A review in Publishers Weekly describes Cactus Blood as having "a mildly suspenseful plot" and a "slow narrative. " This novel opens with a startling image of a women crucified on a cactus. Upon learning that a fellow activist in the United Farmworkers Strike and grape boycott committed suicide, Damasco becomes suspicious and an investigation with a fellow investigator/former activist ensues. The story begins in 1973 in the grape vineyards of Delano and leads to a Native American ghost-dancing site. Damasco is clairvoyant and struggles with dreams and visions of a young woman in trouble, and must deal with her past in order to solve the case.

Black Widow's Wardrobe, published by Arte Publico Press, is Lucha Corpi's third novel featuring Gloria Damasco. The book explores the history and myths of Mexican-American culture amidst a slow moving plot of retribution and murder. Licia Lecuona (a.k.a. Black Widow) has been released from prison after murdering her abusive husband. Michael Cisneros hires Gloria to find the assailant who attempted to kill Licia. Crazy antics ensue as Licia struggles with herself as the reincarnation of La Malinche and attempts to flee. In this reincarnation, Corpi attempts to rewrite the ill-fated history of La Malinche. Similar to her other books, Corpi's political and cultural overtones give a strong voice to an underrepresented Chicano culture. As well as giving agency to Chicana characters in her books, Corpi makes a strong role model out of Gloria Damasco. A review from the introductory pages of Black Widow's Wardrobe says, "Gloria is one of the most original characters in today's mystery fiction. She's tough, vulnerable, smart, and possessed of distinctive skills, not the least of which is her spiritual ability to see" (Manuel Ramos).

In her mystery novels, the political commentary and Chicano symbolism seem equally, if not more important than the mystery itself. By examining spirituality, race relations, myths in Chicano culture, and borderland identity, Corpi uses mystery as an outlet for theorizing on many popular topics in Chicana feminism. Her novels personalize the tribulations and the triumphs of Chicano culture, while her poetry is written on the cusp of the physical and spiritual worlds, and gives depth to the struggle of Chicanas. Within this depth, we can see that her work is not entirely a struggle; the space that she fights for with "the pen and the sword" gives her more room to succeed and always grow. Corpi relates the distress of many Chicanas' search for expression of identity. By giving voice to individuals commonly overlooked by the dominant culture, she identifies and gives presence to Chicanas, not only in literature, but also in a culture that is just opening its eyes to diversity.

Selected Bibliography

Works by the Author

Works about the Author

Works in Languages other than English


Archival Materials

Related Links

Arte Publico Press
This site belonging to a preeminent publisher of U.S. Hispanic authors has biographical and bibliographical information on Lucha Corpi.

La Bloga: "Chicana Crime Fiction"
Lucha Corpi guest blogs on the topic of the future of Chicana crime fiction.

The Chicano Literature Index
This site is an index of Chicano literature, in which Corpi is included. Her site includes her bibliography and a brief summary of Eulogy for a Brown Angel.

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This page was researched by Lisa Griswold, Sandy Hopkins, and Matt Lecheler and submitted on 5/6/02. It was edited and updated by Lauren Curtright on 10/23/04.