Lorna Dee Cervantes

Feminist Chicana Voice

Emplumada by Lorna Dee Cervantes
Emplumada by Lorna Dee Cervantes.

article edited with additions by Jone Johnson Lewis

Born: 1954 in San Francisco
Known For: Chicana poetry, feminism, writing that bridges cultures

Lorna Dee Cervantes is recognized as a significant voice in feminist and Chicana poetry. In fact, she has referred to her adoption of the label "Chicana" as a feminist identification within the Chicano movement. She is critically acclaimed for writing poetry that bridges cultures and explores gender and various points of view.


Born in San Francisco and raised in San Jose, California, Lorna Dee Cervantes has Mexican and Chumash heritage on her mother's side and Tarascan Indian heritage on her father's side. When she was born, her family had been in California for several generations; she has called herself "indigenous Californian." She was raised in her maternal grandmother's home, where she discovered books in homes where her mother worked as a domestic worker.

Lorna Dee Cervantes became an activist when she was a teenager. She was involved with the Women's Liberation Movement, NOW, the Farm Workers Movement, and the American Indian Movement (AIM), among other causes.

Poetry Debut

Lorna Dee Cervantes began writing poetry as a teenager and compiled a collection of her poems at age 15. Although her "debut" poetry collection, Emplumada, was published in 1981, she was a recognized poet before that publication. She participated in the San Jose poetry scene, and in 1974 she read one of her poems at a theater festival performance in Mexico City, which brought her accolades and attention in Mexico.

A Rising Chicana Star

It was not unusual to hear Chicano/a poetry performed as spoken word, not just consumed as a written medium. Lorna Dee Cervantes was a prominent voice of the rising generation of Chicana writers during the 1970s. In addition to writing and performing poetry, she founded Mango Publications in 1976. She also published a journal called Mango. The heady days of running a small press from the kitchen table led to further involvement with Chicano writers such as Sandra Cisneros, Alberto Rios, and Jimmy Santiago Baca.

Women's Experiences

Early in her poetry career, Lorna Dee Cervantes reflected on her mother and grandmother in her writing. She contemplated their place in society as women and as Chicana women. Chicana feminists often wrote of the struggles they faced fitting into white society, paralleled with the struggles of gender in society.

Lorna Dee Cervantes described Emplumada as a woman's coming-of-age and as a rebellion against the male-dominated Chicano movement. She resented being considered disloyal to Chicano social justice ideals when she pointed out sexism in the movement. Poems such as "You Cramp My Style Baby" directly confront the sexism in Chicano men and how Chicana women were treated as second class.

When her mother was killed brutally after Emplumada had been published, she integrated grief and and a strong sense of injustice in her 1991 work. From the Cables of Genocide: Poems of Love and Hunger. Themes of love, hunger, genocide, grief, interweave with her understandings of culture and women, and with a vision of what affirms life.

Other Work

Lorna Dee Cervantes attended Cal State San Jose and UC Santa Cruz. She was a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder from 1989-2007 and briefly directed the Creative Writing program there. She received multiple prizes and fellowships, including the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Award, the Pushcart Prize, NEA fellowship grants, and the American Book Award for Emplumada.

Other books by Lorna Dee Cervantes include and Drive: The First Quartet (2005). Her work continues to reflect her ideals of social justice, eco-consciousness, and peace.

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Napikoski, Linda. "Lorna Dee Cervantes." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/lorna-dee-cervantes-3529035. Napikoski, Linda. (2020, August 27). Lorna Dee Cervantes. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/lorna-dee-cervantes-3529035 Napikoski, Linda. "Lorna Dee Cervantes." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/lorna-dee-cervantes-3529035 (accessed April 1, 2023).