Gloria Anzaldúa was born in South Texas Rio Grande Valley on September 26th, 1942. Her parents were sharecroppers and field workers—people who farm land owned by someone else in exchange for a share of the crops and extremely low wages. When she was 11, Gloria entered the fields as a migrant worker. Realizing that life as a migrant worker would never allow his children to get an education, Gloria’s father had the family settle in Hargill, Texas, where they lived until he died three years later, when Gloria was 14.
The death of her father left Gloria’s family in dire financial straits, and she was obligated to return to farmwork, as she did throughout high school and college while making time for her numerous creative interests. In 1969, Gloria finished her B.A. in English, art, and secondary education and a master’s degree in English and education. After completing her degrees, Gloria began working as a teacher at a bilingual preschool, and later as a special education teacher. This is likely what Gloria is referring to when she discusses choosing to pursue a career and escape the homophobia of her homeland in Borderlands.
In 1977, she moved to California, where she taught at several universities including San Francisco University and UC Santa Cruz. During this time, Anzaldúa was also working independently as a writer and critical theorist. She is perhaps best known for co-editing This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color with Cherrie Moraga, an extremely influential, early challenge to white feminism first published in 1981. She co-edited a follow-up text, This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation, in 2002.
In 1987, she finished Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, her other most famous text. She also authored Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality, a book which she intended as her doctoral thesis, and which was published after her death in 2015. Along with these theoretical texts, Anzaldúa authored several fictional and poetic works, and well as a number of children’s novels.
Anzaldúa was a highly influential author and theorist, and a foundational figure in Chicana/o studies and American Studies. This Bridge Called My Back was the recipient of the Before Columbus Foundation Book Award in 1986, and Borderlands/La Frontera was recognized by Library Journal as one of the 38 books of 1987, and as one of the 100 best books of the century by both the Utne Reader and the Hungry Mind Review. Anzaldúa was also the recipient of the Lamda Lesbian Small Book Press Award (1991), the Lesbian Rights Award (1991), the Sappho Award of Distinction (1992), the National Endowment for the Arts Fiction Award (1991), and an American Studies Association Lifetime Achievement Award (2001).
Anzaldúa died peacefully in her home in Santa Cruz, California in 2004. At the time she was still working on her doctorate in literature from UC Santa Cruz, which was awarded posthumously in 2005. Today there are numerous awards and societies in her honor, including the Gloria E. Anzaldúa Distinguished Lecture Award at UC Santa Cruz, The Gloria E. Anzaldúa Poetry Prize, and the Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa.