Estela Portillo Trambley


Written by Teresa Palomo Acosta
Read by Laurie Gallardo

Estela Portillo Trambley was a late twentieth century playwright and writer who became one of the first female Mexican American writers to achieve a national reputation. She drew inspiration from the people and experiences of her native El Paso: the play Puente Negro (Black Bridge), one of her best known, focuses on immigration, a continuing national issue. Just as importantly, she created works with a feminist voice, in which women challenge the subordinate roles to which many are consigned. In Day of the Swallows, a play for which she won the Quinto Sol Award in 1972, the leading character rebuffs marriage and eventually enters a lesbian relationship. In other works, Portillo Trambley’s female characters emerge as strong persons who learn to live independent lives regardless of societal condemnation.

Other well-known plays are Sor Juana and Blacklight, a story of cultural identity struggles, which won second place in the Hispanic playwright’s competition at the 1985 New York Shakespeare Festival. She was also a founder of the first Hispanic theater in El Paso, Los Pobres.

In addition to writing drama, Portillo Trambley produced a short story collection, Rain of Scorpions in 1975, and her novel, Trini, appeared in 1986. She also wrote poetry and essays.

Estela Portillo Trambley combined writing with a career teaching high school English. In 1995, she held the Presidential Chair in Creative Writing at the University of California, Davis. She died in 1999 at age 63.


Ruíz, Vicki and Virginia Sánchez Korrol. Latinas in the United States, A Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.

Audio Source Information

Our project, "Texas Women's History Moments," received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.