January 8, 2015

Poet and novelist Michelle Serros dies at 48


Michele Serros

Michele Serros

Spoken word artist, poet, and novelist Michelle Serros died on Sunday at just 48. Serros is the author of Chicana Falsa : And Other Stories of Death, Identity, & Oxnard, published in 1994 while she was still an undergraduate, and How to Be a Chicana Role Model, published by Riverhead in 2000. In a moving Facebook tribute, Serros’ husband wrote about the breadth of her work.

Michele published her first novel, “Chicana Falsa” in 1994 while still a student at Santa Monica City College and her second novel, “How To Be A Chicana Role Model” later in 2000. In 2002, Michele was hired as a staff writer for the first season of the George Lopez Show. Later, in 2004, she signed with Simon and Schuster to pen the young adult novels, “Honey Blonde Chica” and the sequel, “¡Scandalosa!.” During all of this, Michele toured as a motivational speaker, delivering commencement speeches and participating in book signings and book fairs all over the country.

Though she was often described as a Latina or Chicana writer, she felt that her experiences were not so easily typecast.  From a 2009 interview, “She said people would ask her what kind of literature she wrote. ‘And I rarely say it’s Chicano literature. I’ll say it’s very Southern California. I grew up fourth-generation Californian. To me, all my experiences — the beach, the malls, avocados — very Californian. I happen to be Chicana.'” You can hear her discuss this in a 2006 interview on All Things Considered.

At KPCC, Serros’ impact on local students was also remembered.

Writing instructor Cathy Gillis hosted Serros several times at Napa Valley College and remembered that Serros’ devotion to her family touched the students.

“They become inspired by her, because I always make the point that she took her writings after her own mom died and went forward after that and was determined to write. Her mother believed in her always,” Gillis said.

Though she often used humor in her writing, she was unflinchingly honest, and her writing about her cancer diagnosis was no exception. In July, she wrote “An Unexpected Heirloom” for Huffington Post.

“Your cancer,” my newly-appointed oncologist sighed, “has spread.”

My cancer? I didn’t recall co-signing for such ownership. Once receiving the news that my status had advanced to Stage 4, I woke up every morning to a day consisting of non-stop fear and crying. I would have pulled out my hair completely from all the panic-riddled anxiety I endured, but I needed to keep any and all of it — for as long as I could. Suddenly, losing my hair seemed more traumatic than having cancer. I desperately wanted to cling to the hair my husband so loved and, as a young girl, I learned early the ideal image of Latina beauty: hair, long hair enhanced by three-inch plastic curlers and high pressure, heavy duty, jet sprays of Aqua Net. My hair seemed the only reason for fighting the illness.

Serros and her husband set up a Give Forward campaign to help with medical costs, and Michele requested that donations be given in lieu of flowers or gifts.

Michele’s brilliant spirit took flight to join her mother among the infinite heavens while recuperating between alternative cancer treatments. She was at her home where she was spending time enjoying that which brought her joy, happiness and peace. For Michele, life was not a fight that was to be won or lost, but enjoyed as a wonderful journey and to be experienced with a firm sense of purpose, curiosity, tenacity, hard work and never-failing courage—all of which she continually displayed with her wit, humor, charm, humility, dignity, grace and of course style. She never quit. Michele will be greatly missed by everyone her life touched in so many ways. An inspiration to her family, friends and fans all around the world, Michele Serros will always be the original Chicana Role Model. May her body rest in peace, her soul rest in power and her words rest in eternal vibration.

Her biggest and most loyal fan,
with all my love and adoration,

Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.