Writer and graphic artist
In the early 1970s, Nicholasa Mohr became one of the pioneers and most notable voices among a growing group of Puerto Rican writers born or raised in the United States. Her first novel, Nilda (1973), gained her immediate critical attention at a time when author Piri Thomas was the only recognized name in U.S. Puerto Rican prose fiction. Although classified as a novel for young adults, Mohr’s first novel received several awards. Nilda belongs to the genre of the Bildungsroman–the coming of age narratives which often fictionalize autobiographical experiences to describe the author’s journey from childhood into adulthood. The novel focuses on the life of a Puerto Rican girl growing up in New York’s El Barrio (Spanish Harlem) during the 1940s, as she discovers the complexities of a surrounding hostile environment, plagued with poverty and racial discrimination endured by many Puerto Ricans in U.S. society.
Like many New York Puerto Rican writers, Mohr was born and raised in El Barrio in Manhattan. Before making writing her main craft, she studied graphic art at New York’s Art Students League, the Brooklyn Museum Art School, the New School for Social Research, and the Pratt Center for Contemporary Printmaking; and her ark work appeared in many exhibits in New York City and Puerto Rico.
The novel Nilda was followed by the award-winning short story collections, El Bronx Remembered (1975) and In Nueva York (1977). Almost two decades later, Mohr also published the autobiographical narrative, In My Own Words: Growing Up Inside the Sanctuary of My Imagination (1994).
The author’s success in the young adult literature market and her recognition of the lack of children’s books by Latino/a authors inspired her to write novellas for them. Felita (1979), her first novel intentionally aimed at younger readers, and its sequel, Going Home (1986), are the best known in this category. She also wrote the illustrated bilingual book for children, The Song of El Coquí/La canción del coquí (1995), a joint venture with the prominent Puerto Rican graphic artist, Antonio Martorell. Other children books include, All for the Better: A Story of El Barrio (1993), The Magic Shell (1995), and Old Letivia and the Mountain of Sorrows/La Vieja Letivia y el Monte de los Pesares (1996). Some of Mohr’s artwork has been used on the covers or inside illustrations of her own books.
Mohr’s most acclaimed work for adult readers is the collection of short stories, Rituals of Survival: A Woman’s Portfolio (1985). These are feminist stories of self-discovery as well as of individual and collective liberation, that defy stereotypes and bring to the forefront those aspects of Puerto Rican culture that are oppressive to women. Mohr continues to celebrate the resilience of women in her short story collection, A Matter of Pride and Other Stories (1998), although, in general, this is an important aspect of most of her writing.
One inescapable characteristic of Nicholasa Mohr’s body of work is her commitment as a writer to capture the despairing realities and wide range of experiences of Puerto Ricans in her New York community: their joys and sorrows, their dreams and nightmares, their successes and defeats, the injustices and struggles they face, and above all, their will to survive and ability to adapt to a hostile environment. She is a gifted storyteller who draws from memories and cultural traditions in capturing different aspects of Puerto Rican life in the United States.
Hernández, Carmen Dolores. Puerto Rican Voices in English: Interviews with Writers. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1997.
November 1, 1938
New York, U.S.A.
Author: Dr. Edna Acosta Belén
Updated: February 18, 2021
Revision: Dr. Lizette Cabrera Salcedo, March 25, 2021