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Three Biographies of Gloria E. Anzaldúa

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Gloria Anzaldúa - Voices from the Gaps

Gloria Anzaldúa, a self-described “chicana dyke-feminist, tejana patlache poet, writer, and cultural theorist,” was born to sharecropper/field-worker parents on September 26th, 1942 in South Texas Rio Grande Valley. After relocating at age 11 to the city of Hargill, Texas on the border of the United States and Mexico, she entered the fields to work. With her parents and siblings, Anzaldúa worked as a migrant worker for a year in Arkansas. Realizing this lifestyle would not benefit his children’s education, Anzaldúa’s father decided to keep his family in Hargill, where he died when Anzaldúa was 14. His death meant that Anzaldúa was obligated financially to continue working the family fields throughout high school and college, while also making time for her reading, writing, and drawing.

In 1969, Anzaldúa received her B.A. in English, Art, and Secondary Education from Pan American University. She then earned an M.A. in English and Education from the University of Texas. As a teacher, Anzaldúa instructed a wide variety of students. She first taught in a bilingual preschool program, then in a Special Education program for mentally and emotionally handicapped students. Later, she worked to educate college students about feminism, Chicano studies, and creative writing at a number of universities, including the University of Texas at Austin, Vermont College of Norwich University, and San Francisco State University. Anzaldúa died of diabetes complications on May 15, 2004.

Gloria Anzaldua - LGBT History Month Icon


b. September 26, 1942

d. May 15, 2004

“Nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.”

Gloria Anzaldua was a leading scholar of feminist, queer and Chicana theories. She was the first author to combine these subjects in poetry, narrative and autobiographical works. She helped build a multicultural feminist movement and called for people of different races to move forward together.

Anzaldua was born to farm workers in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. After witnessing Spanish speakers being treated as second-class citizens, she began writing about Mexican-American liberation.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Pan American University and moved to California to teach feminism, creative writing and Chicana studies. She received a master’s degree from the University of Texas, where she taught a groundbreaking course called “The Mexican-American Woman.”

Anzaldua co-edited “This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color” (1981), one of the most cited books in feminist theory. She is best known for her autobiographical narrative, “Borderlands: The New Mestiza” (1987), which explores her identity as a Chicana lesbian feminist. The Hungry Mind Review and Utne Reader named “Borderlands” among the 100 best books of the century.

Her work is most noted for its mix of two variations of English and six of Spanish. She refused to write in only one language. “As long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me,” Anzaldua said, “my tongue will be illegitimate.”

Anzaldua won many awards, including the Lambda Lesbian Small Book Press Award, the Lesbian Rights Award, National Endowment for the Arts Fiction Award and the American Studies Association Lifetime Achievement Award. She died while working on her doctorate in literature, and was posthumously awarded a Ph.D. by the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Gloria E. Anzaldúa - American National Biography Online

by AnaLouise Keating

Anzaldua, Gloria E. (26 Sept. 1942-15 May 2004), author, cultural theorist, and feminist philosopher, was born in the south Texas town of Raymondville, the oldest of four children of Urbano and Amalia (García) Anzaldúa, sixth-generation Mexican-American rancher-farmers. Gloria was diagnosed in infancy with a rare hormonal disorder that triggered premature puberty, including monthly menses from the age of six. This hormonal condition marked Gloria as physiologically different from her peers, fostering in her a lifelong empathy for other outsiders, which motivated her social justice work and her desire to use the written word to create new forms of inclusionary communities.

Gloria's sense of difference was heightened when she entered Texas's segregated educational system in 1949. Because she spoke only Spanish, her teacher mocked and punished her. Despite this ostracism, Gloria excelled in school. The only Chicana in advanced high school classes, she took pride in challenging teachers' negative stereotypes of "Meskin'" children and was determined to become a writer. In June 1957 her father died, putting additional financial burdens on Gloria, who worked in the fields on weekends and during the summer to help support her family.

After graduating from Edinburg High School in 1962, Gloria Anzaldúa moved to north Texas, where she attended Texas Woman's University. Financial difficulties forced her to return home after a year, and from 1965 to 1968, she attended Pan American University (now the University of Texas-Pan American) in Edinburg, Texas, with an emphasis on English and education. Anzaldúa put herself through college by working during the day and taking courses at night.

After completing her bachelor's degree, Anzaldúa worked for several years in the public school system, teaching students from preschool through high school while battling the same racist, segregated system she had experienced as a student. During the summers she attended graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin (UT), obtaining a master's degree in English and education in 1972. A year later Anzaldúa moved to Indiana, where she worked as a liaison between the public school system and migrant farm workers' children. During this time Anzaldúa took her first creative writing course.

In 1974 Anzaldúa decided that her educational work neither enabled her to make the systemic changes she aspired to nor allowed her to spend adequate time on her creative writing, and she returned to Texas and enrolled in the doctoral program in comparative literature at UT; while completing her coursework, she honed her skills as a creative writer and explored feminist theory and esoteric literature (alchemy, astrology, I Ching, and other metaphysical wisdom traditions). Although from the late 1960s onward Anzaldúa was active in various nationalist movements--including the farmworkers movement and Chicano youth associations such as the Mexican American Youth Organization--she was troubled by their male, heteronormative bias. It was not until she encountered feminist and esoteric metaphysical writings in the mid-1970s that she found frameworks enabling her to develop a multipronged theory and aesthetics of social transformation and inclusive politics.

Determined to become an influential published author, in September 1977 Anzaldúa withdrew from the university and moved to California. From 1977 to 1981 she lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and took a series of part-time jobs but devoted most of her time to her writing. She joined the Feminist Writers Guild, initiated a multicultural reading series called El Mundo Surdo ("The Left-Handed World"; Anzaldúa intentionally spelled Surdo with an S rather than the common Z to pay homage to the south Texas pronunciation), and led writing workshops. Increasingly concerned by white middle-class feminists' limited knowledge of women-of-color feminists, Anzaldúa decided to edit a collection of writings by feminist women of color and, in early 1979, began working on what would become This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981). Coedited with Cherríe Moraga, This Bridge Called My Back was a groundbreaking collection of essays, letters, personal narratives, and poems widely recognized as the premiere multicultural feminist text, simultaneously demonstrating that U.S. feminism was not a "white" middle-class women's movement and showcasing innovative theories.

In July 1981 Anzaldúa moved to the East Coast, where she lived briefly in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and New Haven, Connecticut. From 1982 until 1985 she lived in Brooklyn, New York. She took a variety of part-time jobs (via writing workshops and speaking engagements) and supplemented her limited income with food stamps, bartering, and the generosity of family and friends in order to focus primarily on her writing. Shortly after completing the first draft of a poetry manuscript titled "Borderlands," Anzaldúa returned to Northern California in 1985, where she lived for the rest of her life.

In 1987 Aunt Lute Books published Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, a thoroughly revised and expanded version of the poetry manuscript. Borderlands/La Frontera became Anzaldúa's most widely acclaimed book, often excerpted, anthologized, and cited. It was named one of the top one hundred best books of the century by both the Hungry Mind Review (now Ruminator Review) and Utne Reader. Divided into two parts, part one contains seven mixed-genre essays that combine autobiographical narrative with the history of the U.S.-Mexico border and Anzaldúa's innovative philosophy. Part two contains thirty-eight poems divided into six sections. Throughout the book, Anzaldúa interweaves historical, contemporary, and mythic perspectives to describe her experiences as a Chicana-Tejana lesbian feminist while also developing her theories of "the new mestiza," "mestiza consciousness," and "the borderlands." Her groundbreaking use of code-switching (transitions, sometimes within a single sentence or paragraph, between standard to working-class English and Chicano Spanish, Tex-Mex, Nahuatl-Aztec, etc.) impacted composition studies, literary studies, and Chicana/o studies.

In 1988 Anzaldúa returned to graduate school to complete her doctoral degree, enrolling in the American literature program at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) and supporting herself through speaking engagements, visiting professorships, and publication royalties. Dismayed by the lack of published work by women-of-color feminist theorists, in 1990 she published her second edited collection, Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists of Color. Like her previous anthology, Making Face, Making Soul was a platform to illustrate Anzaldúa's desire to develop multicultural communities and new forms of politically engaged theorizing that combined social critique with aesthetic invention.

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1992, Anzaldúa battled a variety of severe health-related complications and financial concerns while maintaining a rigorous writing schedule. Concerned with the lack of literature for Chicana/o youth, Anzaldúa published two bilingual children's books featuring Prietita, a strong female protagonist: Friends from the Other Side/Amigos del otro lado (1993) explores friendship, undocumented workers, and the border patrol; Prietita and the Ghost Woman/Prietita y la llorona (1995) revises conventional views of La Llorona ("the Weeping Woman"), an important Mexican/Chicana cultural figure. Anzaldúa also published a collection of interviews, Interviews/Entrevistas (2000), offering biographical information and insights into her theories and works in progress. In 2002 Anzaldúa published this bridge we call home: radical visions for transformation, a multigenre co-edited collection of narratives, theoretical essays, short stories, poems, e-mail dialogues, and artwork that builds on and goes beyond This Bridge Called My Back to offer a transgressive vision of twenty-first-century women-of-color consciousness and documents the growth of Anzaldúa's vision of social change and her radically inclusionary feminism, or what she called "spiritual activism."

Internationally recognized as a leading cultural theorist and a highly innovative author, Anzaldúa won many awards, including the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award, Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Small Press, National Endowment for the Arts Fiction Award, Lesbian Rights Award, Sappho Award of Distinction, and American Studies Association Carl Bode-Norman Pearson Prize for lifetime achievement. Anzaldúa died at her home in Santa Cruz, California, probably on 14 May but possibly the day before, from diabetes-related complications. Her body was found on 15 May, which has become the most widely accepted date of her death. In 2005 UCSC posthumously awarded her a Ph.D.; she was ABD and within months of submitting her completed dissertation when she died.

Whether writing poetry, fiction, autobiography, or theory, Gloria Anzaldúa drew on and fictionalized her personal experiences to explore diverse political, spiritual, and aesthetic issues. Her redefinition of Chicana/o identities, use of code-switching, and innovative borderlands theories have influenced many fields, including American studies, composition studies, cultural studies, ethnic studies, feminism and feminist theory, literary studies, queer theory, and women's studies.​


The publications mentioned in the text represent only a fraction of Anzaldúa's writings; unpublished short stories, poems, and essays can be found in the Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers, located in the Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas, Austin. A good introduction to her writing is AnaLouise Keating, ed., The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader (2009). See also Keating, ed., EntreMundos/AmongWorlds: New Perspectives on Gloria Anzaldúa (2005); Keating and Gloria González-López, eds., Bridging: How Gloria Anzaldúa's Life and Work Transformed Our Own (2011); and Norma E. Cantú, Christina L. Gutiérrez, Norma Alarcón, and Rita E. Urquijo-Ruiz, eds., El Mundo Zurdo: Selected Works from the Meetings of the Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa (2010-). Also of interest is Keating, Women Reading, Women Writing: Self-Invention in Paula Gunn Allen, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Audre Lorde (1996).

DMU Timestamp: November 01, 2017 20:56

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