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 her death, Ms. Prida attended the 20th anniversary celebration of LIPS (Latinas in Power), an advocacy group of journalists and other professionals (the New York Times reports that it was Ms. Prida who suggested adding the "S"—which stands for "Sort of"— to the acronym). The party's guest of honor 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 LIPS, TV and radio host María Hinojosa.
On her way back home Ms. Prida felt sick and called one of her sisters, who took her to Mount Sinai Hospital, her close friend and colleague 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 Ms. Junco, a former editor of the Daily News' Viva New York section, and current editor of VoicesofNY.org. "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, Ms. Prida was a longtime 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 Obdulia Prida was born on September 5, 1943, in Caibarién, Cuba. In 1961 she, her mother Dolores and her two sisters, Lourdes and María (who survive her) reunited in Miami with her father Manuel, a small-business owner, 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 working for the publishing industry, including a stint at Simon & Schuster as the editor of a Spanish-English dictionary, 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 US 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 noursihed 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 María! (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.