Jesús Papoleto Meléndez

2004 EP. NO. 10
JESUS PAPOLETO MELENDEZ is a proud Puerto Rican who is a poet, educator and activist. Meléndez’s family migrated to this country from Puerto Rico to find a better life, settling in El Barrio, East, Harlem in the early 1950s. Meléndez, born and raised in New York City, became interested in the arts at an early age, and participated in his first poetry reading when he was 19 years old, during the heyday of the Civil Rights and Black Arts Movement. As a matter of fact, Meléndez is one of the original founders of the “Nuyorican Poets’ Movement,” which would influence the works of such contemporaries as Sandra María Esteves, Miguel Piñero, and Lucky Cienfuegos, among many others. With the publication of his poem, “Message To Urban Sightseers” in Talkin’ About Us (NY, 1969); and the publication of his first volumes of poetry, Casting Long Shadows (NY, 1970), Have You Seen the Liberation (NY, 1971) and Street Poetry & Other Poems (Barlenmir House, 1972), Meléndez’s poetry emerged at the inception of this movement. He would later go on to publish Concertos on Market Street (1993) and his works would appear in countless literary publications and anthologies.

Also a playwright, Meléndez’s play, The Junkies Stole The Clock, was the first production of the NY Shakespeare Festival’s Public Theatre’s Nuyorican Playwright’s Unit in April of 1974. It was again produced in 1997, and directed by Veronica Caicedo (Caicedo Productions) at the Clemente Soto Vega Cultural Center, in New York City.

Meléndez has worked in the public schools as a poetry-facilitator for over 30-years. Throughout his career, he has coordinated many successful “Poetry/Creative Writing” workshops, impacting the lives of thousands of young people. He developed a unique program that offers cross-curriculum creative writing experiences, with emphasis on poetic form and expression. Moreover, Meléndez was one of the first poetry-facilitators to incorporate computer desktop publishing techniques and technology in the classroom, and as a result, has published numerous booklets of students’ works.

During the early 1970s, while still in his teens, Meléndez worked for Teachers & Writers Collaborative and Poets-in-the-Schools in New York City. When he relocated to California in 1980, Meléndez taught for the San Diego City Schools District through various programs, such as the California Arts Council’s Artists-in-Residence program, and the Young At Art program. He also served as the San Diego-area coordinator for the San Francisco-based statewide program, California Poets In The Schools. He has twice been selected as one of 60 poets nationwide to be working in San Francisco, California; Washington, D.C. and in the Bronx, New York City, facilitating Poetry and Creative Writing workshops through the Writers Corps division (Bronx Council on the Arts) of President Clinton’s AmeriCorps program. When he returned to New York in the mid-1990s, he worked for Teachers & Writers Collaborative, taught workshops at Boricua College and currently works for currently teaches poetry workshops in the public schools throughout New York City.

As a performance-poet, Meléndez has distinguished himself as a dynamic presenter of his works in the oral tradition. His poetry seems to “jump from the page” in its written form, stylized in a technique of word-visualization which the poet refers to as “Cascadance,” and, in its oral presentation becomes a melodic processional sounding of syllables, which personify the words’ images and feelings. While in California, Meléndez created the musical group “Exiled Genius,” a jazz quartet that combined the tradition of jazz spontaneity and precision with the natural melody of the poetic voice, a masterful breakthrough in poetry/jazz collaboration. Exiled Genius performed at several festivals throughout San Diego, Los Angeles and Baja California, Tijuana, México and has opened for such artists as Tito Puente and Urban Bush Women and The Art Ensemble of Chicago. He has also appeared at numerous venues in New York City, including: Fusion Arts Museum, Exoterica, The Cornelia Street Café, Langston Hughes Community Library & Cultural Center, Poet’s House, SlamFam and Jake’s Saloon. Besides writing, publishing and performing poetry, Meléndez is a community activist and a supporter and participant of grassroots organizing and resistance. He has assisted organizations such as Taller Boricua, Hope Community Inc., The No-RNC Video Coalition, Verbalisms Magazine’s An Evening for Vieques, among others. The influence of the Black Power and Nuyorican movements and their promotion of the arts as a vehicle for social justice has certainly made its mark on not only Meléndez’s poetry, but has also become an instrumental part of his life.

Meléndez’s works have appeared in literary publications such as: Long Shot, phati’tude, A Gathering of the Tribes; New Rain, Volume IX, Tercer Milenio; Revista Chicano-Riquena; and Portfolio, the Creative Forum. His works have been in a numerous of anthologies, notably: In the Arms of Words: Poems for Tsunami Relief edited by Amy Ouzoonian (Foothills, 2005); Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam edited by Tony Medina, Louis Reyes Rivera (Three Rivers Press; 2001); In Defense of Mumia edited by S. E. Anderson, Tony Medina (Writers & Readers Pub., 1996); Not Black and White-Inside Words from the Bronx WritersCorps (Plain View Press, 1995); Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry edited by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Jennifer Gillan (Penguin, 1994); Herejes Y Mitificadores: Muestra De Poesia Puertorriquena En Los Estados Unidos edited by Efrain Barradas and Rafael Rodriquez (Ediciones Huracan, 1980); Peace is our profession: Poems and passages of war protest edited by Jan Barry (East River Press, 1981); and Nuyorican Poetry: An anthology of Puerto Rican Words and Feelings edited by Miguel Piñero, Miguel Algarin (Morrow, 1975). He was also interviewed by Deep Dish TV Network’s Paper Tiger TV, “The Gulf Crisis TV Project;” Noticiero Latino’s weekly magazine, Edición Semanaria; and was featured at UCTV-University of California Television, “A Cascade of Words: Jesús Papoleto Meléndez” (1998).

His works have been taught in classrooms across the country, from the elementary school level though college. His works have appeared in textbooks, such as: Welcome to Your Life: Writings for the Heart of Young America by edited by David Haynes, Julie Landsman (Milkweed Editions; 1998); and Literature and Integrated Studies: Grade Eight by Alan C. Purves, Carol Booth Olson, Carlos E. Cortés, Judith Allen Brough, Edward N. Brazee (Scott Foresman, 1997). He has been cited in numerous dissertations and publications, such as: “New York City: An Outsider’s Inside View (Urban Life and Urban Landscape)” by Mario Maffi (Ohio State Univ. Press; 2004); “Beyond Island Boundaries: Ethnicity, Gender, and Cultural Revitalization in Nuyorican Literature” by Edna Acosta-Belen (Callaloo, Autumn, 1992);”Island and Continental Puerto Rican Literature: Cross-Cultural and Intertextual Considerations” by Yanis Gordils (ADE Bulletin 091, Winter 1988); and “Hispanic Theatre in New York” by Gloria F Waldman (The Journal of Popular Culture, 1985).

He is the recipient of “The Louis Reyes Rivera Lifetime Achievement Award,” (2004); a New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Fellowship in Poetry (2001); an Artist for Community Enrichment (ACE) Award from the Bronx Council on the Arts (1995); and a Combo (Combined Arts of San Diego)-NEA Fellowship in Literature (1988). A life-long member of The Latin Insomniacs Motorcycle Club Without Motorcycles Inc., Meléndez has served, along with the late poet, Pedro Pietri, as Ambassador representing El Spirit Republic de Puerto Rico; El Puerto Rican Embassy, New York City.

Meléndez considers his role as educator and activist complementary to his poetry. Combining political agitation and life’s daily observations, he produces poetry with a twinge of humor and irony that engages people of all ages.

Last updated 2009.

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