Nicholasa Mohr

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Nicholasa Mohr
Born (1938-11-01) November 1, 1938 (age 82)
Notable worksNilda; Rituals of Survival: A Woman’s Portfolio
Notable awards1974 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award; The New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year; National Book Award finalist

Nicholasa Mohr (born November 1, 1938) is one of the best known Nuyorican writers, born in the United States to Puerto Rican parents.[1][2] In 1973, she became the first Nuyorican woman in the 20th century to have her literary works published by the major commercial publishing houses, and has had the longest creative writing career of any Nuyorican female writer for these publishing houses.[3] Her works tell of growing up in the Puerto Rican communities of the Bronx and El Barrio and of the difficulties Puerto Rican women face in the United States.

Mohr has written books for all audiences, though primarily for young adults. She has also written screenplays, plays, and scripts for television.

Life and career[edit]

Mohr was raised in the Bronx after her parents immigrated from Puerto Rico. In 1938 when she was born, the Great Depression was slowly coming to an end. Her father died when she was eight years old, leaving her mother with seven children, and Mohr as the only female and the youngest amongst her siblings. In order to escape the poverty that surrounded her, Mohr used her imagination to express her feelings. Her artistic talents and eagerness for learning flourished when she was a young student, but weren't always appreciated by her teachers, who saw her Puerto Rican heritage as a weakness.[4] Since Mohr's parents saw her schooling in America as a privilege, Mohr learned to adapt to her surroundings, while spending her free time volunteering in the library and reading, learning what she wasn't able to attain in school. After graduating junior high school, she got a job as a page girl in the New York Public Library.

Mohr studied fashion illustration in high school and graduated in 1953, then went to study at the Arts Student's League, an art school located in New York. Here she discovered the works of Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco which inspired her to study art and travel to Mexico City to study at the Taller de Gráficos for a semester. After a year she returned to the United States and attended the New School for Social Research. Then in 1959 she went to Brooklyn Museum of Art School and Pratt Graphics Center. Throughout her studies Mohr was drawn to artwork because of its powerful message about social change.

She worked in both fine arts and writing until 1976, when she devoted herself entirely to writing after the success of her book Nilda. Her switch to writing happened by chance when her art agent at the time rejected her artwork for someone else's book, but liked what she wrote when she was asked to write 50 pages about her childhood, which formed the basis for Nilda.[5]

From 1988 through 1991, she taught writing as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Queens College, City University of New York. From 1994 through 1995, she was Writer-in-Residence at Richmond College, the American University in London.[6]

Major works[edit]

Mohr published her first book Nilda in 1973, which traces the life of a teenage Puerto Rican girl who confronts prejudices during the World War II era in New York. She was awarded the Jane Addams Children's Book Award.[3] She incorporated autobiographical material for the book even though it is a work of fiction. Drawing on her training and expertise in art, Mohr created the book jacket and eight illustrations for the book.

Mohr's second book, El Bronx Remembered, was published in 1975 by Harper & Row. It is a collection of stories and a novella about the struggles of Puerto Ricans living in New York from the late 1940s through the mid 1950s. It was awarded the New Times Outstanding Book Award, making Mohr the first Latin female to receive such an honor.[3]

Mohr has written fifteen books total, not including reprinted or translated versions. Ten of her books are written for young adults, two are for children, and three are written for adults. Her most recent books are 1997's “A Matter of Pride and Other Stories,” published by Arte Público Press and Untitled Nicholasa Mohr in 1998.

Though she has not been as active publishing in the last twenty years, her books are still highly regarded. In a 2016 interview with The New York Times, 'Hamilton' Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda cited Nilda as the book that shaped him the most.[7]

Creative Influences[edit]

Mohr is predominantly influenced by Puerto Rican culture and the migratory patterns of Puerto Ricans within the United States. Though Puerto Ricans have been American citizens since 1917 through the Jones-Shafroth Act, Mohr has said that Puerto Ricans felt as though they were “strangers in their own land,” as though they were refugees when coming to the U.S. In Mohr's own memoir, she recalls living in an all-white neighborhood with her family as a child. Her brothers got brutally beaten and she was afraid to leave her house. Due to this, the family moved after four months to another part of the Bronx. These incidents of brutality and fear are what inspired her young adult book Felita.

Feeling like an outcast is a common theme in Mohr's stories, and is also paralleled through her own life experiences. In Mohr's memoir, she recalls times where her bilingualism got her in trouble in school. In Nilda, a similar situation occurs where a character finds her knuckles smacked by a teacher when she speaks Spanish. In addition, when Mohr discussed her faith with nuns growing up, she was told that her religious practice was "sinful."[4] Being forced to assimilate to a new culture is a reoccurring issue in Mohr's books, and her characters use their voices to overcome stereotypes as Mohr did in her life.

Mohr's children's book The song of el coquí and other tales of Puerto Rico (written and published in both English and Spanish), discusses the ancestral traditions that make up Puerto Rican culture, and mixes the heritages of Latin Americans, Africans, Spaniards, as well as indigenous people. She uses animals to illustrate the mixing and blending of cultures frequent in Latin America.[8]

By exploring the lives and traditions of Latin Americans, Mohr encourages readers of all ages and ethnicities to widen their perceptions of Latinos.

Personal life[edit]

Mohr met her husband Irwin when she attended the New School for Social Research, but he passed away in 1978. They have two sons, David and Jason.


  • Nilda: a novel. Arte Publico Press. 1986. ISBN 978-0-934770-61-3. (First published 1974.)
  • Bronx Remembered: A Novella and Stories. San Val, Incorporated. 1993. ISBN 978-0-613-18443-4.
  • El Bronx remembered: a novella and stories. Harper & Row. 1975.
  • In Nueva York. Arte Publico Press. 1988. ISBN 978-0-934770-78-1.
  • Felita. Illustrator Ray Cruz. Bantam. 1990. ISBN 978-0-553-15792-5.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • Going home. Dial Books for Young Readers. 1986. ISBN 978-0-8037-0269-1.
  • Rituals of survival: a woman's portfolio. Arte Publico Press. 1985. ISBN 978-0-934770-39-2.
  • Growing up inside the sanctuary of my imagination. J. Messner. 1994. ISBN 978-0-671-74171-6.
  • A Matter of pride and other stories. Arte Público Press. 1997. ISBN 978-1-55885-177-1. Nicholasa Mohr.
  • The song of el coquí and other tales of Puerto Rico. Illustrator Antonio Martorell. Viking. 1995. ISBN 978-0-670-85837-8.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • La canción del coquí y otros cuentos de Puerto Rico. Viking. 1995. ISBN 978-0-670-86296-2.
  • The magic shell. Illustrator Rudy Gutierrez. Scholastic. 1995. ISBN 978-0-590-47110-7.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • El regalo mágico. Translator Osvaldo Blanco; Illustrator Rudy Gutierrez. Scholastic. 1996. ISBN 978-0-590-50210-8.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • Old Letivia and the Mountain of Sorrows. Illustrator Rudy Gutierrez. Viking. 1996. ISBN 978-0-670-84419-7.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • La vieja Letivia y el Monte de los Pesares. Illustrator Rudy Gutierrez. Penguin Ediciones/Viking. 1996. ISBN 978-0-670-86324-2.CS1 maint: others (link)


Critical studies[edit]

(as of March 2008)

  1. Nilda de Nicholasa Mohr, El bildungsroman y la aparición de un espacio puertorriqueño en la literature de los EEUU By: Bellver Sáez, Pilar; Atlantis: Revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Ingleses y Norteamericanos, 2006 June; 28 (1): 101–13.
  2. Nicholasa Mohr (1938-) By: Sánchez González, Lisa. IN: West-Durán, Herrera-Sobek, and Salgado, Latino and Latina Writers, I: Introductory Essays, Chicano and Chicana Authors; II: Cuban and Cuban American Authors, Dominican and Other Authors, Puerto Rican Authors. New York, NY: Scribner's; 2004. pp. 905–16
  3. Nicholasa Mohr, A Matter of Pride and Other Stories By: González, Lisa Sánchez. IN: Quintana, Reading U. S. Latina Writers: Remapping American Literature. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan; 2003. pp. 141–49
  4. Prophesy Freedom: Puerto Rican Women's Literature as a Source for Latina Feminist Theology By: Delgado, Teresa. IN: Pilar Aquino, Machado, and Rodríguez, A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology: Religion and Justice. Austin, TX: U of Texas P; 2002. pp. 23–52
  5. Border Spaces in Nicholasa Mohr's Growing Up inside the Sanctuary of My Imagination By: Vásquez, Mary S.; Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingüe, 2001 Jan-2002 Apr; 26 (1): 26–33.
  6. Pa'lante: An Interview with Nicholasa Mohr By: Kevane, Bridget. IN: Kevane, and Heredia, Latina Self-Portraits: Interviews with Contemporary Women Writers. Albuquerque, NM: U of New Mexico P; 2000. pp. 83–96
  7. Bildungsroman Written by Puerto Rican Women in the United States: Nicholasa Mohr's Nilda: A Novel and Esmeralda Santiago's When I Was Puerto Rican By: Muñiz, Ismael; Atenea, 1999 June; 19 (1-2): 79-101.
  8. The Wretched Refuse at the Golden Door: Nicholasa Mohr's 'The English Lesson' and America's Persistent Patronizing of Immigrants By: Dwyer, June; Proteus: A Journal of Ideas, 1994 Fall; 11 (2): 45–48.
  9. Nicholasa Mohr (1 November 1938 – ) By: Miller, John C.. IN: Luis and González, Modern Latin-American Fiction Writers: Second Series. Detroit, MI: Gale; 1994. pp. 170–77
  10. Down These City Streets: Exploring Urban Space in El Bronx Remembered and The House on Mango Street By: Heredia, Juanita; Mester, 1993 Fall-1994 Spring; 22-23 (2-1): 93-105.
  11. De Puerto Rico a Nueva York: Protagonistas femeninas en busca de un espacio propio By: Rodríguez-Luis, Julio; La Torre: Revista de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1993 July-Dec; 7 (27-28 [2]): 577–94.
  12. The Concept of Puerto Rico as Paradise Island in the Works of Two Puerto Rican Authors on the Mainland: Nicolasa Mohr and Edward Rivera By: Miller, John; Torre de Papel, 1993 Summer; 3 (2): 57–64.
  13. The Puerto Rican 'Rainbow': Distortions vs. Complexities By: Gregory, Lucille H.; Children's Literature Association Quarterly, 1993 Spring; 18 (1): 29–35.
  14. Latina Narrative and Politics of Signification: Articulation, Antagonism, and Populist Rupture By: McCracken, Ellen; Crítica: A Journal of Critical Essays (Univ. of California, San Diego), 1990 Fall; 2 (2): 202–07.
  15. The Journey toward a Common Ground: Struggle and Identity of Hispanics in the U.S.A. By: Mohr, Nicholasa; The Americas Review: A Review of Hispanic Literature and Art of the USA, 1990 Spring; 18 (1): 81–85.
  16. Growing Up Puertorriqueña: The Feminist Bildungsroman and the Novels of Nicholasa Mohr and Magalí García Ramis By: Fernández Olmos, Margarite; Centro, 1989–90 Winter; 2 (7): 56–73.
  17. Puerto Rican Writers in the U.S., Puerto Rican Writers in Puerto Rico: A Separation beyond Language: Testimonio By: Mohr, Nicholasa. IN: Horno-Delgado, Ortega, Scott, and Sternbach, Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P; 1989. pp. 111–116
  18. Puerto Rican Writers in the United States, Puerto Rican Writers in Puerto Rico: A Separation beyond Language By: Mohr, Nicholasa; The Americas Review: A Review of Hispanic Literature and Art of the USA, 1987 Summer; 15 (2): 87–92.
  19. An Interview with Nicholasa Mohr By: Natov, Roni; The Lion and the Unicorn: A Critical Journal of Children's Literature, 1987 Apr.; 11 (1): 116–121.
  20. Back Down These Mean Streets: Introducing Nicholasa Mohr and Louis Reyes Rivera By: Flores, Juan; Revista Chicano-Riquena, 1980; 8 (2): 51–56.
  21. Nicholasa Mohr: Neorican Writings in Progress: 'A View of the Other Culture' By: Miller, John C.; Revista/Review Interamericana, 1979; 9: 543–54.
  22. The Emigrant and New York City: A Consideration of Four Puerto Rican Writers By: Miller, John C.; MELUS, 1978 Fall; 5 (3): 82–99.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Nicholasa Mohr Biography". Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  2. ^ Heath Anthology bio
  3. ^ a b c "Hispanic Firsts", By; Nicolas Kanellos, publisher Visible Ink Press; ISBN 0-7876-0519-0; p.40
  4. ^ a b Mohr, Nicholasa. "In My Own Words: Growing Up Inside the Sanctuary of My Imagination." Simon & Schuster, 1991.
  5. ^ Thelma T., Reyna. “LATINOPIA BOOK REVIEW NICHOLASA MOHR ‘NILDA.’”, 26 Mar. 2012,
  6. ^ "Balkin Buddies". Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  7. ^ “Lin-Manuel Miranda: By the Book.” New York Times, 5 Apr. 2016,
  8. ^ Smolen, Lynn Atkinson, and Victoria Ortiz-Castro. “Dissolving Borders and Broadening Perspectives through Latino Traditional Literature.” The Reading Teacher, vol. 53, no. 7, 2000, pp. 566–578. JSTOR, JSTOR,

External links[edit]