Chicana Literature, Creative Arts Scholar Named Tomás Rivera Chair

Theater professor Tiffany Ana López , the granddaughter of migrant farmworkers, fills chair honoring UC Riverside’s fourth chancellor

Tiffany Ana Lopez

Tiffany Ana López is the new Tomás Rivera Chair.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Fleeing an abusive home and on her own at age 15, Tiffany Ana López planned a career as a Burger King franchise owner. The life of a scholar was unimaginable. But a series of mentors — high school teachers, community college instructors and a Latina poet at Cal State Sacramento — encouraged her to dream big.

López, now a professor of theater at the University of California, Riverside, has been named the Tomás Rivera Chair in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. She becomes the second scholar to hold the prestigious endowed chair at UC Riverside, succeeding Juan Felipe Herrera, who has held the position since 2005. Gov. Jerry Brown named Herrera the California Poet Laureate in March, a two-year appointment that will take the Latino poet into classrooms and community centers throughout the state.

“I am incredibly proud to be honored in this way,” said López, a longtime admirer of Rivera for his creativity as a poet and author, his scholarship and his administrative leadership. “When you’re an endowed chair you’re a living memorial. Like Tomás Rivera I feel duty-bound to serve the public by emphasizing that students finish their degrees and have a sense about what they want to do to change the world when they leave the university. Our students represent passion, hope and the future.”

Rivera was UC Riverside’s fourth chancellor, serving from 1979 until his death after a heart attack in 1984. Rivera was the first Hispanic and first minority chancellor in the UC system. The endowed chair, funded by Rivera’s family and other donors, provides financial support for teaching and research to a senior faculty member. The chair-holder also coordinates the annual Tomás Rivera Conference.

In announcing the appointment of López, Stephen Cullenberg, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, said, “Tomás Rivera was a world-class poet, author, scholar and administrator. Tiffany Lopez’s record of creativity, scholarship and administration make her a perfect fit for the Tomás Rivera endowed chair. She brings passion, sensitivity and deep knowledge to every project she engages. We are looking forward to the many new and exciting projects she will develop while she holds the Tomás Rivera chair.”

Concha Rivera, wife of the late Tomás Rivera, said she looks forward to López assuming the duties of the endowed chair.

“She is a very qualified and multitalented person. She brings an array of new ideas that will propel the endowed chair into the future,” Rivera said. “I’m looking forward to her vision for the Tomás Rivera Conference, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year, and for Dr. López to work with the (Tomás Rivera) archive and other projects that the endowed chair involves.”

López joined the UCR English department in 1995 as the university’s first specialist in Chicana/o literature. She currently is a professor in the Department of Theatre. Her research focuses on issues of trauma and violence and the ways that theater, literature and art provide avenues for personal healing, community building and social change.

“I left home to escape horrific domestic violence and the violence of poverty,” she explained. “I try to help students develop a vocabulary to talk about issues that impact all of us. That empowers them to be more present with their work and their goals, and enables them to be better students and understand their own histories.”

The granddaughter of migrant farmworkers and the first in her family to attend college, López describes herself as “an accidental academic.”

A Burger King restaurant manager at age 16, the future she envisioned entailed earning an A.A. degree so she could become a franchisee. Three instructors at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento encouraged her to transfer to California State University, Sacramento to earn her bachelor’s degree instead.

She enrolled in a program for students who showed promise and were at-risk, and found a mentor in the English department, Chicana poet Olivia Castellano.

“She created employment for me and transitioned my frame of reference to an institution of higher learning,” López said. “She involved me in a program tutoring families of migrant farmworkers in English composition. She was a poet who trained me to become a professor of literature and to understand the transformative nature of education, and instilled in me the need to understand what it means to be an artist.”

After completing her bachelor’s degree at CSU Sacramento, López spent a year participating in creative writing workshops with foundational Chicano literary figures such as Sandra Cisneros, Ana Castillo and Rudolfo Anaya. She went on to earn a master’s degree and a Ph.D. at UC Santa Barbara, where she edited  an anthology, “Growing Up Chicana/o” (William Morrow & Co., 1993), which Publishers Weekly praised as 20 stories that “affirm the potency of Chicano literature.”

Since then, López has edited Chicana/Latina Studies: The Journal of Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (2005-2012) and has published numerous essays, articles, chapters and reviews in books and journals, including Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies, “Prose and Cons: Essays on Prison Literature in the United States,” “Ethnic Literary Traditions in American Children’s Literature” and “The Blackwell Companion to Twentieth-Century American Drama. She is completing a book project, “The Alchemy of Blood,” about art as a form of engaging with issues of trauma and violence, and collaborating on a biography with visual artist Barbara Carrasco.

She was a Fulbright Scholar to Spain in 2004 and has received grants from the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation for her work on intellectual diversity and the creative arts. As a community artist, López has collaborated with theaters such as The Mark Taper Forum, The Latino Theater Company, and Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble; and is an ensemble member of Company of Angels. She is a faculty advisory board member for the Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts and a member of a Mellon working group on medical narratives. She is a member of Campus Women Lead and the National Advisory Board of Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social.

At UCR she has participated in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences First Year Experience Program and the Mentoring Summer Research Internship Program. She was recognized for her work with students by a Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research in 2009.

López said she has spent her career trying to pass on to her students what she gained from her education and how to live a life of vision and promise.

“I see myself in my students,” she said. “I understand what they are searching for in terms of a mentor and a language to better navigate not only their work at the university but also their lives. It’s not just about getting them through the subject matter or a degree. It’s what Tomás Rivera talked about in ‘And the Earth Did Not Devour Him’ — the seed of love in the darkness. At UCR we are sowing seeds.”

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-7847
E-mail: bettye.miller@ucr.edu
Twitter: bettyemiller

Additional Contacts

Tiffany Ana López
Tel: (951) 827-1929
E-mail: tiffany.lopez@ucr.edu

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