Latino Author Series
Nicholasa Mohr was born in New York City's El Barrio of Puerto Rican parentage. Her formal training was in fine arts and in her early years she studied art in NYC and in Mexico City.
Nicholasa had a successful but short career as an artist. Then in 1972 she submitted an outline for a book about a young girl coming of age in New York's El Barrio and was given a contract by Harper & Row.
Her first book Nilda was published in 1974. After her second book, El Bronx Remembered, she switched exclusively from painting to writing fiction.
Nicholasa currently moved back to Spanish Harlem where she was born and continues to write books for all ages and plays for the stage. Her published works include: Felita, Going Home and The Magic Shell.
If you could go back to your childhood and change something, what would it be and why?
I would change the attitude and expectations during my childhood that the dominant Anglo Society at Large expressed toward Latinos. In my case being Puerto Rican very often meant that schools and educators expected less of me despite my good grades and high aspirations. My desire to go on to higher education to succeed and have a significant positive impact in my community and in my country of birth, was more often than not at best ignored, and at worst discouraged. However, in spite of undergoing exclusion, prejudice and outright hostility I succeeded. Nonetheless, growing up I would have liked to received the encouragement and inclusion, support and respect that other Americans youngsters of Caucasian European ancestry received.
Who inspires you?
My own Puerto Rican community to begin with but I am also encouraged by the Latino talent that is making advances in all aspects of society. Beyond that, I am inspired by people and individuals on this earth whose will to survive, invent and create make a positive difference and a better world for everyone.
Who is the most important person to you?
My mother who died when I was just 14 years old is still a source of inspiration. One of many memories is that she was the first feminist I ever met even though we never spoke in those terms. She encouraged me to succeed and taught me to have pride in myself as a female and as a Latina. My mother also she insisted that all of her children have pride in being Puerto Rican and in being part of our Latino culture.
What are the ups and downs of being a writer?
The ups of being a writer is that you can work using your imagination and create a world that others may experience and enjoy. It’s fun to invent characters and speak about things that I care about and that are very important to me. It’s also wonderful to have people read your books and to know you are communicating and reaching others. The downs are that it is a isolated profession because most of the time you work alone. Your workspace must be quiet and the more you accomplish as you write the more quiet and solitude you require.
How does it feel to be a writer?
It feels like I have a responsibility to produce work that my readers will enjoy whether they are youngsters or adults. When I write I realize I must be a good communicator and write stories that will intrigue my readers and compel them to read with interest.
At what age did you start writing and who encouraged you to write?
Although my formal training was as a visual artist, I have been writing since I was very young. I would write stories along with my drawings. Later on as a professional artist I wrote a few reviews and articles about painting and printmaking. When I was in my late thirties and the mom of two boys I began to write seriously. After my first novel Nilda was published and successful, I eventually stopped doing visual arts and devoted myself exclusively to writing.
Out of all the writings you have done which is your favorite?
I don’t have a favorite because every one of my book has value. But one of the titles that is very popular and special for me is my collection of stories, El Bronx Remembered. I believe this is because the nature of this book deals with ‘el cuento’, storytelling that is an intrinsic part of Puerto Rican culture. When I was growing up and things seemed bleak for any number of reasons, we had no money for Christmas or a birthday celebration, someone was ill or perhaps there was a death in the family, we would turn to storytelling. Adults would recite traditional folk tales about Puerto Rico or create stories about their experiences in New York City. Some tales were sad others were hilarious but all the stories were entertaining and soon everyone was feeling better and the future appeared brighter.
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