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Denise Chávez

Denise Chávez is a leading Chicana playwright and novelist who comes out of the Southwest United States. She was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico on August 15, 1948 to Ernesto E. Chávez, an attorney, and Delfina Chávez, a teacher. Education was important to her family, as well as self-improvement. When Chávez was 10 years old, her parents divorced and this was very hard on her.  She spent the majority of her childhood in a matriarchal household which included her mother, sister, and half-sister. This womanly upbringing is the inspiration to most of her plays, novels, and short stories.

In high school, she became interested in drama by performing in productions. She wrote her first play while a senior at New Mexico State University. Her first play was originally titled, “The Wait,” and later renamed “Novitiates” when it was produced in 1971. This play, which presented the lives of several persons in a transitional period of their lives, won in a New Mexico literary contest. Her writings, which include her famed short-story collection The Last of the Menu Girls, are a voice for the unheard, which she feels are women. Chávez claims that her writing catches the beauty “in the small gestures of the forgotten people.” She feels that writing is a “healing, therapeutic, invigorating, sensuous manifestation of the energy that comes to you from the world, from everything that’s alive.”

Chávez has been honored with many awards for her literary contribution in Chicana wrting. New Mexico State University awarded her play “The Wait” with Best Play. In 1995, she received the New Mexico Governor’s Award in literature and the El Paso Herald Post Writers of the Pass distinction. This same year she was awarded with the Premio Aztlan Award, American Book Award, and Mesilla Valley Writer of the Year Award, all for her work of Face of an Angel.  She is also a founding member of the National Institute of Chicana Writers.

Chávez focuses her writing in the Southwest, “in heat and dust” where she claims “love is as real as the land.”  From here, she draws inspiration for her characters that reflect the love that “is as real as the land.” She has written over of 21 plays, novels, and a children’s book. Chávez is also represented in anthologies including An Anthology: The Indian Rio Grande, Voices: An Anthology of Nuevo Mexicanos Writers, An Anthology of Southwestern Literature, as well as many others.


"Denise (Elia) Chávez." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009. http://0-galenet.galegroup.com.linus.lmu.edu:80/servlet/BioRC