Sarah Cortez

Sarah Cortez, Councilor at the Texas Institute of Letters, is the author of an acclaimed poetry collection, How to Undress a Cop, and winner of the PEN Texas literary award in poetry. She has edited Urban Speak: Poetry of the City and Windows into My World: Latino Youth Write Their Lives, winner of the 2008 Skipping Stones Honor Award.  She has also edited Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery and Indian Country Noir (Akashic Books) and You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens, which was short-listed for the 2012 International Latino Book Awards.  Kirkus Reviews has hailed the anthology as “a consistent, well-crafted collection,” while the starred review in Booklist says the book “presents stories that are notable both for their authenticity and for their language.” In 2012, her memoir entitled Walking Home: Growing Up Hispanic in Houston was published by Texas Review Press. A collection of poetry from the urban street cop’s perspective, Cold Blue Steel, (Texas Review Press) was released to enthusiastic reviews in 2013.  Also released to critical acclaim in 2013 is Our Lost Border: Essays on Life amid the Narco-Violence (Arte Público Press), which won a 2013 Border Regional Library Association Award for Southwest Book of the Year and the 2013 International Latino Book Award for Latino Focused Non-Fiction (Bilingual).  In March, 2015, Ms. Cortez’s new poetry anthology, Goodbye, Mexico: Poems of Remembrance (Texas Review Press, 2014), was released.  45 previously unpublished poems by poets answer the question: What do you remember about Mexico?  The anthology is a Finalist, International Latino Book Awards 2014. 

Her work has appeared in The Sun, Rattle: Poetry for the 21st Century, The Houston Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, The Texas Review, New Texas, Louisiana Literature, Blue Rock Review, Pennsylvania English, The Midwest Quarterly and many other publications.  Her work is widely anthologized in collections by Penguin, the Great Books Foundation, and other international publishers.

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Speaker Topics

How a Life in Law Enforcement Influences my Writing career

Award-winning writer, Deputy Cortez has served twenty-one years in active and reserve functions in patrol, investigations, training, undercover, and bailiff in Harris County, Texas.   When she writes about policing, she speaks from the heart and the mind of one who knows that her best friends are her gun and ballisticvest.  She speaks directly to young officers learning the ropes and the “old heads” who have seen it all and citizens who respect the role of the police in their community.

Sarah’s message about why she chose a career in Law Enforcement after a successful corporate career will inspire your audience.  Her two books of Law Enforcement poetry, Cold Blue Steel (Texas Review Press, 2014 and How to Undress a Cop (Arte Público Press, 2000), breathe life into the mundane daily grind and capture the intensity of crisis.  

Format:  Lecture with reading, from 20 - 45 minutes to suit your audience, followed by book signing
Audience size:    No limit
Suitable for:  Law enforcement organization, citizen police organizations, public safety organizations
Title of featured books: Cold Blue Steel and How to Undress a Cop   

The Spiritual Memoir: Crucible of Self

Sarah covers a brief history of the spiritual memoir’s genesis and antecedents in Western culture.  Then she addresses the necessary components of the genre, the creation of persona, the challenges of voice in this genre, and the publishing industry’s reception of such manuscripts.

Sarah shares the ups and downs of her own spiritual journey in finding a home for a manuscript written many years previously and the importance of vision in such a journey.  Larry D. Thomas, 2008 Texas Poet Laureate, shared this comment on the cover of Sarah's spiritual memoir, Walking Home: Growing Up Hispanic in Houston.

In this breakthrough, mixed-genre memoir in prose and poetry, Cortez invites her reader to sit by her side as she shares, with the intimacy of a personal diary, the seminal, poignant memories of the early years of her life.  In the opening prose section, through the unifying motif of the radiant colors of a large, stained-glass window, she writes of family love, tragedy, disappointment, wonder, longing, and the consoling power of spiritual fulfillment, and she does so in startling, lucid prose as pure as the colored light pouring through the window.  Cortez segues from one genre to another so artfully and seamlessly that the lean, skillfully executed poems appear a natural, intensified extension of the luminous prose.

Format:  Lecture (approx. 45 minutes), followed by book signing
Audience size:    No limit
Suitable for:  Writing seminars, literary festivals, high school and university writing classes
Title of featured book:   Walking Home: Growing Up Hispanic in Houston (Texas Review Press)

Your Life, Your Story:  Evoking Memory to Create Narrative and History

Who is to say which one of us will become a part of recorded history in our professional or creative lives?  Western history abounds with examples of men and women whose history has been preserved and published, and those for whom it hasn’t.  However, each of us has an indelible presence in the personal, quieter histories of our families, neighborhoods, and friends.  Yet, for an individual’s sense of empowerment and self-identity, the most important history is self-history, that unique, imagined, internal narrative that we all unconsciously create and/or fulfill.  Explore the potentials of consciously choosing the narratives of one’s own self-meaning.

Format:  Lecture (approx. 30 minutes), followed by book signing, if appropriate
Audience size:    No limit
Suitable for:  Writing seminars, literary festivals, high school and university writing classes

Pulling Away Salome’s Veils:  Attaining Creative Focus

Why don’t we write, or paint or sculpt – release the artist within us?  In this speech, Sarah identifies and removes the barriers that we create to suppress our artistic development. 

  • Veil one:  Everything else we’re good at
  • Veil two:  Fear
  • Veil three:  Perfectionism
  • Veil four:  Optimistic about time or, “I’ll do it next year.”
  • Veil five:  “No one wants good work.” Or “I refuse to learn from rejection.”
  • Veil six:  The allure of solitude
  • Veil seven:  Success

Format: Lecture (approximately 30 minutes), followed by 15 minutes of selected reading and a book signing, if appropriate.
Audience size:  No limit
Suitable for:  writing seminars, literary festivals, high school and university writing classes

My Life in Reading:  The Development of a Poet

What shapes character?  How does a child morph from a lover of reading into a writer, a teacher, a poet, a cop?  Sarah traces the anthology of written influences that produced one of American’s most acclaimed modern poets. 

Format:  Lecture (approx. 40 minutes), followed by 15 minutes of selected reading and a book signing, if appropriate
Audience size:    No limit
Suitable for:  Writing seminars, literary festivals, high school and university writing classes

Life Lessons

Traces Sarah's development as an artist and three of the powerful lessons she learned:

  • If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well,
  • No one can take away what you learn,
  • Love America and perform civic duties.

Format:  Lecture (approx. 30 minutes), followed by 15 minutes of selected poetry reading and a book signing, if appropriate
Audience size:    No limit
Suitable for:  commencement, achievement ceremonies, writing groups, law enforcement groups, military groups


Goodbye, Mexico: Poems of Remembrance

Texas Review Press 2015

Goodbye, Mexico gathers over 70 unpublished poems that answer the question: What do you remember about Mexico?

Mexico will never be the same as during the last half of the Twentieth century.  The narco-violence by the drug cartels has done much to ravage Mexico’s border and internal cultures.  The country has also been altered irrevocably by the complexities of globalization and by its own inability to shore up a desperately struggling middle class and a failed tourist industry.

Many Americans, who previously traveled to Mexico or lived in close proximity to its vibrant border culture, feel a deep sense of loss for the Mexico that they knew and loved.  This loss engenders memory; memory engenders poems.


Cold Blue Steel - Poetry

Texas Review Press 2013

COLD BLUE STEEL contains 50 lyric poems set in the world of the urban street cop in the nation's fourth largest metropolis, Houston. 

In the patrol car, at scenes of suicides and DOAs, in the overtimereality of aching feet and sweating torsos, the reader experiences thehard realities and unexpected luminosities of doing America's mostdangerous job.

Sarah Cortez has almost 20 years of police experience, which was reflected in her first book of poetry, How to Undress a Cop (Arte Publico Press, 2000). That book was shocking, sexy, and tough. Tempered by experience, Cold Blue Steel has more pathos and the stunning complexity of trying to do an impossible job.

Our Lost Border: Essays on Life amid the Narco-Violence - Anthology of Essays


Edited by Sarah Cortez and Sergio Troncoso
Arte Publico Press 2013

With a foreword by renowned novelist Rolando Hinojosa and comprised of personal essays about the impact of drug violence on life and culture along the U.S.-Mexico border, the anthology combines writings by residents of both countries. Mexican authors Liliana Blum, Lolita Bosch, Diego Osorno and Maria Socorro Tabuenca write riveting, first-hand accounts about the clashes between the drug cartels and citizens' attempts to resist the criminals. American authors focus on how the corruption and bloodshed have affected the bi-national and bi-cultural existence of families and individuals. Celestino Fernandez and Jessie K. Finch write about the violence's effect on musicians, and Maria Cristina Cigarroa shares her poignant memories of life in her grandparents' home now abandoned in Nuevo Laredo.

In their introduction, editors Sarah Cortez and Sergio Troncoso write that this anthology was "born of a vision to bear witness to how this violence has shattered life on the border, to remember the past, but also to point to the possibilities of a better future." The personal essays in this collection humanize the news stories and are a must-read for anyone interested in how this fragile way of life between two cultures, languages and countries has been undermined by the drug trade and the crime that accompanies it, with ramifications far beyond the border region.


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Walking Home: Growing Up Hispanic in Houston

Spiritual Memoir

Texas Review Press 2012

This groundbreaking, mixed-genre memoir journeys from the soil of Texas farmland near Floresville to the shrimpers’ nets of the Gulf Coast, near Matagorda. Three generations of Hispanic families are viewed through the faith-filled lens of the miraculous and the poignancy of dreams never realized.  The journey continues to the mid-Twentieth century metropolis of Houston where what is done is as powerful as that which never happens. Join memorist Sarah Cortez as she broadens the definition of memoir to include the literary space of faith and the function of deep belief.

Dreams, memories, what happened, and what might have happened: of such hopes and sorrows are our lives made up. Here, in words which seem refracted through the stained- glass window made up of common earth and laced always with the transcendent, Sarah Cortez offers us insight after shimmering insight into those who have shaped her, as well as into the complexities of coming into her own multifaceted self-hood. Here is her world, caught in the womb-like alembic of the imagination, illuminated by the light of faith and the rich tradition of her Tejano heritage.

- Paul Mariani, Poetry Chair, Boston College & 2009 John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry

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