September 2014 Features

Poet, Scholar, Activist

Luzma Umpierre, M.A. ’76, Ph.D. ’78, has been hailed as “a hilarious, riotous voice, proudly affirming herself as woman, Puerto Rican, Lesbian, thinker, human.”


By Priya Ratneshwar

31_GRAD SCHOOLS_Luz UmpierreWith a scholarly record that includes two books of literary criticism, seven collections of bilingual poetry, and more than 40 scholarly articles, Luzma (Luz Maria) Umpierre, M.A. ’76, Ph.D. ’78 has been hailed as groundbreaking by feminist and queer-theory scholars. Writing in both English and Spanish—and sometimes in both languages in a single poem—Umpierre has seen her work widely anthologized and incorporated in literary histories and has received numerous awards and accolades.

Most recently, this renowned poet, scholar, and human-rights activist was nominated for the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, an award given by the South Korean May 18 Memorial Foundation to recognize “individuals, groups, or institutions in Korea and abroad that have contributed in promoting and advancing human rights, democracy, and peace through their work.”

 In addition, her essay, “The Poet’s Dossier: Womyn, Omens and Poems,” published in Chasqui in November 2012, was recently nominated for the Sylvia Molloy Award for the Best Academic Essay in the Humanities organized by the Sexualities Studies Section at the Latin American Studies Association.

Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Umpierre is known for her trenchant, poetic commentary on the discrimination faced by Puerto Ricans in the mainland United States and also for her open discussion of lesbianism, especially in the erotic poetry of The Margarita Poems, published in 1987.

 In 2011, she published another anthology of poetry—I’m Still Standing: Treinta años de poesía / Thirty Years of Poetry, edited by Carmen S. Rivera and Daniel Torres, and including
an introductory essay by Torres
and a biographical essay by Nemir Matos-Cintrón.

Umpierre has received awards for human-rights advocacy and for her pioneering work on the inclusion of issues of sexual orientation, gender, race, class, and ethnicity in Latin American and Latino-studies curricula. Umpierre is also an advocate for
the rights of those with AIDS, homeless people, battered women, disabled children, and members of the LGBT community.

 In 2011, she received the Michael Lynch Service Award from the GL/Q Caucus for the Modern Languages Association—the first Latina so honored and, indeed, the first Puerto Rican to win any award at the MLA. The award, given each year to an academic activist in recognition of extraordinary contributions in the LGBT community, was presented to Umpierre by GL/Q Caucus president and fellow activist Lourdes Torres during a ceremony at the Modern Language Association’s annual convention in Seattle.

In November 2009, DePaul University’s John T. Richardson Library honored Umpierre with an event recognizing her donation of a collection of her artwork, poetry, photographs, and documents chronicling workplace legal struggles, lesbianism, and the migrant experience. The collection, which spans more than 40 years, reflects Umpierre’s professional career, including legal documents chronicling cases of workplace discrimination she experienced on the basis of her ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. It also includes books, memorabilia, and elements of her personal life, such as correspondence, photographs, and some early family documents.

Umpierre has been generous to Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections as well, with her donation of 250 books of contemporary Latino poetry and literature, including limited-edition, hard-to-find works by influential writers Sandra Esteves, Marjorie Agosín, and Rosamaría Roffiel.

Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, fellow scholar and the author of Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Diaspora and Uñas pintadas de azul/Blue Fingernails, hails Umpierre as “Una voz hilarante que surge del discrimen, del menosprecio y del dolor y lo transforma en amadísima metáfora al revés. A hilarious, riotous voice, proudly affirming herself as woman, Puerto Rican, Lesbian, thinker, human.”