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Sarah cortez, cop

More than twenty years ago, I left a flourishing corporate career to strap on a gun, wear a badge, and police the streets. Transitioning from Italian high heels and a gleaming high-rise to the interior of a low-bid, state-owned Crown Victoria with throaty overdrive and threadbare carpeting was exactly what I wanted—and had eagerly anticipated. The price was high—a radical pay cut, a divorce, loss of social status—but not unexpected. It is the best thing I’ve ever done.
— Sarah Cortez, Cop
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My life in writing & law enforcement

I am deeply proud of being a Houstonian. What is often described as a free-wheeling atmosphere here has produced an “anything goes” attitude – an important component of both the entrepreneurial/economic realm and the artistic realm. The hard-working and civic-minded ethics of my parents, who moved to Houston after my dad’s honorable discharge following World War II, set me up well for whatever would follow my traditional, Catholic schooling of elementary and high school years.

Before age five, I remember being in love with the written word. At that time, my mother was an elementary school teacher and she hand-made my first books, sewing the binding with white thread on her sewing machine. I hadn’t yet entered kindergarten, but how I loved those books with only a few words and large pictures from Life magazine that she had crafted for me.

I was well into my policing career before I began writing about police work. The first poem about policing was “Rosie Working Plain Clothes” — a humorous piece published in How To Undress A Cop (Arte Publico Press, 2000). Many of the later poems in that same book touch on death. It is my hope that some of these poems spark understanding in civilians of the incredible paradoxes police officers deal with and work under daily. Law, justice, mercy — they’re all imperfect. Police officers work with these imperfections every day and night.

In 2013, I released my second book of poetry about policing, Cold Blue Steel (Texas Review Press).  It contains 50 lyric poems set in the world of the urban Houston street cop. 

In the patrol car, at scenes of suicides and DOAs, in the overtime reality of aching feet and sweating torsos, you experience, with me, the hard realities and unexpected luminosities of doing America's most dangerous job. Tempered by years of police experience, Cold Blue Steel has more pathos and honors the the stunning complexity of trying to do an impossible job.

Through other various careers (e.g. high school teacher, tax accountant, employee benefits consultant) I still carried the dream to be a writer. In the late 1980s I took several courses from the University of Houston’s Creative Writing department. At that point, I was fascinated by the short story and focused on writing in that form. Several pieces were published in literary journals or anthologized.

In 1992 I began writing poetry. To this day I have no idea what changed the focus of my writing. Every time I sat down to write, poetry came out on the page, not prose.

Shortly thereafter, I left a flourishing corporate career to strap on a gun, wear a badge, and police the streets. Transitioning from Italian high heels and a gleaming high-rise to the interior of a low-bid, threadbare Crown Victoria was exactly what I wanted—and had eagerly anticipated. The price was high—a radical pay cut, a divorce, loss of social status—but not unexpected. It is the best thing I’ve ever done.


what readers and the press says about sarah cortez and policing



“Cortez’ writing will resonate with law enforcement professionals—from the adrenaline-inspiring memories of the police academy to the everyday chaotic scenes of crime-fighting. The best features of her writing are her authentic voice, her passion about the “calling” of police work, and the concise language she utilizes—as only a gifted writer can. This book is a good reminder to all of us of why we wanted to be police officers in the first place.”

Lt. Betsy Randolph, Oklahoma Highway Patrol

Cortez has caught the essence of what it means to be a police officer with its “endless boredoms and dirt . . . its tiny, stark terrors” and the “hidden rewards of intense camaraderie, sense of mission, and the fulfillments of justice and duty.” She has explained the unexplainable in a fascinating read without flinching and with the eye of a poet."

T.K. Thorne, retired police captain and award-winning author of Angels at the Gate

“Tired, Hungry, Standing in One Spot for Twelve Hours: Essential Cop Essays transports her readers into the world of law enforcement. A veteran police office, Cortez has spent 24 years in law enforcement working everything from undercover assignments to sexual assault investigations and crime prevention. Cortez is a Councilor of Texas Institute of Letters whose poems, essays and short stories have been published in numerous journals and magazines.”

JoAnn Holt, Focus Daily News, November 16, 2018




“In a culture addicted to cop dramas - on TV, in movies, in the pages of police procedurals - Cortez offers an inside look that both honors and demystifies women and men in uniform. … The gravity of this responsibility - and the occasional dark humor that comes with it - bleed into the collection. Cortez’s thoughtful, plainspoken poems put readers where police, victims and criminals tend to be: on the street, in the medical examiner’s office, in court, in a patrol car, at a funeral.”

Maggie Galehouse, Houston Chronicle, 8-12-13

“Her work will put you in the mind-set of an officer regularly confronting death and the even greater challenges of people given over to acts of sheer insanity and evil.
… Cortez’s work in
Cold Blue Steel is both brutally frank and lyrically, rhythmically beautiful. Some of her poems, quite literally, are prayers.”

Ed Conroy, San Antonio Express News, 10-24-13

“In unflinching, densely-packed verse that sparkles with indelible phrasings, Cortez takes us from rookie training to routine law enforcement and then into the garish, violent world of vicious crime.

Along the way she shows us the humor and friendship that blossom amidst the men and women charged with the stark responsibility of putting their lives between assailants and victims. The voices she records for us are poignant and real, flawed human beings who nonetheless wrangle their way through thickets of power and bureaucracy to keep us safe.”

David Bowles, The McAllen Monitor, 10-17-13



                                               HOW TO UNDRESS A COP (ARTE PUBLICO PRESS, 2000)


“In a society glutted with police shows and detective novels, it is perhaps surprising that more tales of law enforcement have not found their way into poetry. But Cortez, winner of the PEN Texas Literary Award, is about to tip those scales. Her sassy debut of mostly first-person poems comes to us from the unique perspective of a female police officer: drawing deeply on her experiences as a deputy constable in Houston’s Harris County, as well as her Mexican-American roots, Cortez writes convincingly on the charged topics of lust, fear, and home. ”

Kirkus Reviews

“And you thought there was no poetry in police work! This dazzling collection . . . is an entrancing literary quickie...”

Latina Magazine

“Full of hard-edged description and fast-flowing narratives ... By turns erotic, tender, and gritty ... Powerfully direct.”

Publishers Weekly