Writer Michele Serros, known for her irreverent observations about life as a Chicana growing up in Southern California, died of cancer Sunday in Berkeley. She was 48.
Serros started her career as an Los Angeles-based spoken word artist who was especially popular with Generation Mex, the twentysomethings of the 1990s. In a two-decade writing career, she gained influence as a novelist and performer with mainstream appeal, appearing at Lollapalooza in 1994 and writing several novels for young adults.
Serros burst onto the mid-90s poetry scene not with macho-style energy or rapid-fire delivery, but with a disarming wit. Marcos Frommer, a radio producer at the time recording L.A.’s poetry scene, remembers her unique style.
"What really struck me about Michele was her new voice, a type of voice that had never been heard before in the Latino community," Frommer said. "It was innocent yet extremely insightful. She [was] a keen observer of the human condition but, most importantly for me, she was really funny."
In 1996, Frommer produced Serros’s poetry collection, “Chicana Falsa: And Other Stories of Death, Identity, and Oxnard,” distributed on CD by major record label Mercury Records.
Serros told scholar Ilan Stavans in a 2009 interview that she followed advice to write what she knew — and that was growing up in rural Oxnard in a working-class family.
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."
Serros wrote three more books, including "How to be a Chicana Role Model." Her books led to a writing gig for the George Lopez TV show. But she also spent time giving talks at colleges and Latino-themed conferences where she motivated and inspired young writers.
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, she wrote seriously on topics for which she felt strongly. She once took the Chipotle chain to task in a Huffington Post column for failing to feature Mexican and Mexican-American writers' stories on the restaurant's cups and takeout bags.
In April 2013, Michele Serros was diagnosed with cancer. She described her treatment and her challenges online. “Every time I hiccup, sneeze, cough and or flatulate (aka cut a pedo),” she wrote, “the pain is unbearable! I mean truly unbearable.”
She also described her experience on learning her cancer had spread in a deeply personal article for The Huffington Post.
Los Angeles writer Steve Abee talked to her soon after the diagnosis.
"Last time we talked, it was very emotional you know, because of the situation she was in physically," he said. Their conversations often boiled down to: “How’s life?”
Friends and supporters rallied around her, raising funds to help cover her medical expenses on givingforward.com and organizing a fundraiser on Sunday in Berkeley.
But word came on the same day: Serros had died in her home with her husband by her side.