Cuban-born playwright, journalist, and poet Dolores Prida, whose candid, humored, and often mordant columns about the most pressing social and political issues constituted one of the staples of Latino media, died of cardiac failure on January 20.
The night before, Ms. Prida attended the 20th anniversary celebration of LIPS, an advocacy group of Latina journalists and other professionals. The party’s special guest was Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who earlier that day had been interviewed in a public event at El Museo del Barrio by another member of the group, TV and radio host María Hinojosa. On her way back home, Ms. Prida felt sick and called her sister, who took her to Mount Sinai Hospital, her colleague and close friend Maite Junco told Latina magazine. Ms. Prida, who suffered from diabetes but was apparently in general good health, passed away on Sunday morning. “It’s not known yet if she died of a heart attack or a stroke,” said Junco, a former editor for the Daily New. “There will be an autopsy.”
The news of Dolores’ death spread quickly over the social media. In an email to LIPS members, Justice Sotomayor said: “Dolores was a visionary. As a writer she inspired us to think deeply about our culture. She will be missed.”
In addition to her weekly column for El Diario La Prensa, Dolores Prida was a long-time contributor to the Daily News and Latina magazine, where she was in charge of one of its most popular columns, “Dolores Dice” (Dolores Says, in Spanish). “In many ways, Dolores was the heart and soul of the magazine,” said Latina’s executive editor Damarys Ocaña Pérez. “She loved helping Latinas understand their self-worth and potential whether it was through her column’s combination of witty and wise advice or by helping those of us putting together each magazine issue stay true to our mission of celebrating Latina life and accomplishments,” said Ocaña Pérez.
Dolores Prida was born on September 5, 1943, in Caibarién, Cuba. In 1961 she, her mother and her two siblings reunited in Miami with her father, who had left the island-nation shortly after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. The family settled in New York City, where Ms. Prida would spend the rest of her life. She took a job at a bakery and attended night classes at Hunter College for a few years before making an inroad into the publishing industry and launching her career as a journalist. During the 1970s and 1980s, she was director of information services for the National Puerto Rican Forum, managing editor of the Spanish-language daily El Tiempo, New York correspondent for Visión magazine, senior editor of Nuestro magazine, literary manager for the theatrical organization International Arts Relations (INTAR), and publications director for the Association of Hispanic Arts (AHA).
Ms. Prida began writing short stories and poetry while still a teenager in Cuba. In the U.S. she published her first book, the collection of poems 37 poemas (1967), but it was as a playwright that she would establish her literary reputation. Alongside Eduardo Machado, Manuel Martín, Tato Laviera and others, she was one of the most active and one of the first female playwrights that nourished the New York Latino stage during the 1980s and 1990s.
Her first play, Beautiful señoritas, premiered in 1977. It was followed by The Beggars Soap Opera, a musical comedy inspired in Bertolt Brecht’s The Three Penny Opera (1979); Coser y cantar (1981); Pantallas (1986); Botánica (1991); Casa Propia (A House of Her Own, 1999), and Four Guys Named José … and Una Mujer Named Maria (2000). Throughout her career, she received several distinctions: the Cintas Fellowship Award for Literature, the Creative Artistic Public Service Award for Playwriting (1976) and the Excellence in Arts Award, given by Manhattan Borough President (1987). In 1989 she was granted a Doctor of Humane Letters degree by Mount Holyoke College.
Reviewing Casa Propia in 1999 for the New York Times, D. J.R. Bruckner said: “Ms. Prida has a good ear for New York Hispanic street language, and this cast exploits it so hilariously that at times even a viewer with no Spanish may want to set aside the simultaneous translation earphones and take it in raw: the grimaces and gestures reveal what is meant, and the sound is too good to miss. (The play’s characters) are likely to live with you for a long time.”
So will Dolores’ memory live in those who knew her. She will be sorely missed.
Claudio Iván Remeseira is a New York-based award-winning journalist, writer, and criti. Translator of the Spanish-language on-line section of The Nation and editor of Hispanic New York, an online portal and blog on current events and culture. Editor of Hispanic New York: A Sourcebook (Columbia University Press, 2010), an anthology of essays on the city’s Latino, Latin American & Iberian cultural heritage, and winner of the Latino International Book Award in the category of Best Reference Book in English (2011).