Bawdy Latina lesbian rebel poet tatiana de la tierra is overdue for discovery

A portrait of Tatiana de la Tierra with a terracotta angel levitating on the wall behind her.

Tatiana de la Tierra died in Long Beach in 2012.

(Rotmi Enciso)

Unfortunately, the majority of American readers are not familiar with the name Tatiana de la Tierra. As an introduction to the essay Aliens and Others, the late author described herself as follows: “I am a fat, slightly bearded lesbian. A white Latina of Colombian descent. A pagan without Catholic guilt. A hedonist who knows shame. I was diagnosed with lupus. Drive a pink and purple pickup truck. collect stones. I’ve been poor most of my life. Known the wealth of gold plated Gucci for some memorable years. I am a writer.”

De la Tierra was born under a different name in Villavicencio, Colombia in 1961, grew up in Miami and died in Long Beach, California in 2012. She wrote violent, rough, politically outspoken literature and edited some of the first Latina lesbian publications to be distributed in the United States and Latin America. Though she herself has never broken into the literary mainstream anywhere, she has written for and for writers on the fringes everywhere.

This fall, for the first time, a Colombian publisher brought together her chapbooks and some other works into a single collection, entitled Redonda y Radical. With any luck, this is just the beginning of a long posthumous career.

During her lifetime, de la tierra published two professionally bound books. The first was For the Hard Ones: A Lesbian Phenomenology, described as “A lesbian manifesto for hardcore lives, baby lives, and lesbian wannabes.” A bilingual edition returned to print in 2018. Her other book, Xia y las mil sirenas, published in Mexico in 2009, was a children’s book about mermaids, lesbian mothers, and the power of the family of choice.

However, the majority of her work was self-published in folk books under the Chibcha Press name in the 2000s and hand-distributed at music festivals, lesbian get-togethers and literary events. Some of these chapbooks found inspiration in publishing traditions across Latin America – such as the methods of the Eloísa Cartonera cooperative in Argentina, which began making handmade cardboard-covered books (cartoneras) after the economic crisis in 2001. de la tierra recycled paper and cleaned cardboard, then decorated their boxes by hand, creating works that were truly one-of-a-kind.

Argentinian style chapbooks by Tatiana de la Tierra "cardboard boxes."

Chapbooks by tatiana de la tierra in the style of Argentinian “cartoneras”.

(tatjana de la tierra)

The writing itself was just as unique – unassimilated and unflinching, even by today’s standards. Her poem “Big Fat P—Girl” is an unabashed litany of praise for her genitals, beginning with “Queen-Size c—” and piling on other epithets: a “whaler of ac—,” a cruise ship, the World Wide Web , a Cadillac, a castle, an eagle, Jupiter, the Library of Congress, Disney World, and finally “the Sonoran Matancera of C—”. Her work isn’t always as explicit, but she’s consistently sexy and hilarious.

It is also unique in its treatment of bilingualism. Some authors only use Spanish words when there is no direct English equivalent. Others may choose to alternate between English and Spanish to ensure it remains accessible to non-Spanish speakers. De la Tierra produced some works only in Spanish, others only in English, and still others in Spanglish. She wrote without concessions to the boundaries of any language or nation.

Her writing was also as sonically rich as writing can be. Sometimes she brought instruments to readings. About the musicality of her work, her mother, Fabiola Restrepo, said: “I would read her poetry even when she was still on the potty. Well, I would recite to her more than read. Rafael Pombo is one of the poets I would recite to her.” Luckily she exists still recordings from de la tierra expressing her evocative work. Bawdy Latina lesbian rebel poet tatiana de la tierra is overdue for discovery

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