Obituary by Wayne Ford for the Athens Banner-Herald.
Judith Ortiz Cofer, a long-time University of Georgia professor of English and an accomplished poet and author, died Dec. 30 at her home in Jefferson County. She was 64.
Cofer, who in 2010 was inducted into the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame, was a professor from 1984 until she retired in 2013. She became ill from cancer not long after retirement, but continued to make speaking engagements, including a literary festival last April at Western Carolina University.
Cofer, who died at her home near Louisville, was buried in the Louisville City Cemetery. While a professor at UGA, she lived in Athens, then spent weekends at her home with her husband, John Cofer, a high school mathematics teacher. She had one daughter.
A native of Puerto Rico, her family moved to New Jersey when she was a child and in 1967 they moved to Augusta.
“She was a wonderful writer of essays, poetry and novels,” said UGA English Professor Hugh Ruppersburg. “One of the main things in her works was the experience of moving to the United States from Puerto Rico as a young child and adapting herself to becoming accustomed to another culture.”
“She was a great teacher,” said Ruppersburg, who befriended her not long after she joined the English Department. “She worked hard to help her students be successful and she stayed in touch with them after they graduated. I think that the loss of her as a human being and personality is a terrible loss.”
“Judith Cofer was one of the wonderful poets of her generation. She was witty, philosophically deep and emotionally touching,” said Betty Jean Craige, also a retired professor from the English Department and a longtime friend.
“She was a beautiful representative of the Latino community, but she was a poet for everybody,” Craige said. “She was nationally known and widely anthologized for her poetry from the perspective of Hispanic Americans, but the appeal of her poetry was not limited to Hispanic Americans.”
When Cofer was working on her first novel, she allowed her husband and Craige to read each chapter as it was finished, Craige recalled.
“She was my favorite living poet and Dylan Thomas (1914-53) was my favorite dead poet. Now she will take her place alongside Dylan Thomas,” Craige said about her friend.
Among Cofer’s works were “The Line of the Sun,” a novel that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and she won an O. Henry Prize for the story “A Latin Deli.” Cofer’s works are also in English literature text books for high school students.
In a 2003 interview with the Athens Banner-Herald, Cofer said, “’The best advice I can give is to be engaged in an activity that gives meaning to your life. When you get up in the morning, you say this is what I want to be engaged in doing. My husband loves teaching high school mathematics and seeing the results in the classroom. My daughter is a research mathematician and she also teaches. They have a life’s work as opposed to an occupation. And that’s how I see my writing, as my life’s work.”