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Voices From the Gaps

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Demetria Martinez

So many years since that chopstick
click of yes, so many years I can count them
in illegal U.S. wars, pueblo feast days
wicks drowned in red wax. . . 

          — Night

Biography - Criticism

Demetria Martinez has led a life rich in culture and controversy. Raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she credits her love for writing as well as her spirituality to her grandmother, a God-fearing, Bible-reading Mexican Protestant. Martinez was a shy, overweight teenager who began keeping a journal when she was fifteen in order to converse with herself.

She graduated from Princeton University in 1982 with a degree in public policy. After four years of college Demetria was clear on only one thing, "Life is too short to work at a job that requires hose, heels, and forty hours a week. Why settle for a career when one might have a calling?"

Martinez went to Albequerque and joined the Sagrada Art School, a community that encourages artists to stay away from full-time jobs. She lived there for six years whiling away her morning hours reading poetry and her afternoons working at various odd jobs. She gradually began to experiment with her own poetry which was published as Turning in 1987.

One year later she was indicted on charges related to smuggling two refugee women into the country. She was facing a twenty-five year prison sentence and the government attempted to use one of her poems, "Nativity, for Two Salvadoran Women," against her in court. Martinez had simply accompanied a Lutheran minister when he helped two women cross over as part of the Sanctuary movement, which had been approved by the governor of New Mexico.

She was acquitted on First Amendment grounds. In 1990 Martinez joined the staff of the National Catholic Reporter in Kansas City writing columns concerning controversial issues such as abortion and immigration. After two years she began to feel stifled by the demands of a full-time job. She attended a Chicano poetry festival at the Mexico Fine Arts Center in Chicago at the invitation of Luis Rodriquez. As she listened to Sandra Cisneros read from Woman Hollering Creek, Martinez felt she could hear a voice that said, "His nation chewed him up and spat him out like piñon shell and when he emerged from an airplane one late afternoon I knew I would one day make love with him. " It became the opening line to her first novel, Mother Tongue, which won the 1994 Western States Award for Fiction. Since the publishing of her novel she has contributed another selection of poetry entitled Breathing Between the Lines (1997).

Selected Bibliography

Works by the Author

Works about the Author

Related Links
The author's official website.

Column by Demetria Martinez on death and burial
"Coming to grips with the fact of passing on" - an October 26, 2001 article in the National Catholic Reporter

Ploughshares: "Night" and "First Things"
Emerson College's literary journal offers two poems by Demetria Martinez.

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This page was researched and submitted by: Eva Chung, Beth Karlgaard, and Quynh Tran on 9/22/98.