Louis Reyes Rivera

2002 EP. NO. 3
Award-winning poet/essayist Louis Reyes Rivera has been a mainstay in cultural activism for well over thirty years. Often referred to as the “Janitor of History,” he has taught literature and history since 1969. A recognized scholar on African American and Caribbean history and literature, Rivera also creates poetry and essays viewed by many as a bridge between African American and Latino communities.

Rivera has assisted in the publication of well over 200 books, including Great Black Russian: A Novel on the Life and Times of Alexander Pushkin (Wayne State Univ. Pr., 1989) by John Oliver Killens, Addison Gayle; Portraits of the Puerto Rican Experience (IPRUS, 1984) by Adál Alberto Maldonado. In the past few years, Rivera has edited: Sancocho: A Book of Nuyorican Poetry (Dark Souls, 2001), by Shaggy Flores, who follows in the tradition of Arturo Schomburg and Rivera; The Nubian Gallery: A Poetry Anthology (Blacfax Publications, 2001), an exciting collection of provocative and memorable poems by talented African-Americans writers; and Bum Rush The Page: A Def Poetry Jam (Crown Publishers, 2001), edited with Tony Medina, an anthology that places emphasis on the poem and its subject matter, not the poet, which makes for a remarkably democratic anthology. Rivera is also an editor of the long-awaited The Bandana Republic (Soft Skull Press, 2006), edited with Bruce George. Compiled by two former street gang members, The Bandana Republic is a literary first – an anthology that speaks from the standpoint of past and present gang members; a collection of poetry and prose that reflects the creative and intellectual sides of those who come from the undercurrent of urban centers.

Rivera is an internationally recognized poet whose essays and books, particularly his award-winning poetry collection, Scattered Scripture (Shamal Books, 1996), are often quoted by scholars for the in-depth research they provide. As a professor of Pan-African, African-American, Caribbean and Puerto Rican history, he has been cited in numerous texts, including: Puerto Rican Voices in English: Interviews with Writers (Praeger, 1997) edited by Carmen Dolores Hernandez; New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement (Rutgers Univ. Pr., 2006), edited by Lisa Gail Collins, Margo Natalie Crawford; and New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), by Raquel Z. Rivera (no relation).

His essays and poems have appeared in numerous publications, including: Areyto, Boletin, The City Sun, African Voices; and in five award-winning collections: In Defense of Mumia In Defense of Mumia (Writers & Readers Publishing, 1996), edited by S. E. Anderson and Tony Medina; Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café (Owl Books (1994) edited by Miguel Algarin, Bob Holman, Nicole Blackman; and Bum Rush The Page.

Since 1996, Rivera continues to host a bi-monthly 1st and 3rd Sundays “Jazzoetry & Open Mic @ Sistas’ Place” (where he also conducts his writing workshop), in Brooklyn, and has appeared in Jazz clubs and festivals with The Sun Ra All-Stars Project, Ahmed Abdullah’s Diaspora, and his own band, The Jazzoets. He has also appeared on C-SPAN, as part of the REPARATIONS NOW! rally held in Washington, D.C., and on Russell Simmons’ DEF POETRY on HBO.

For the past five years, Louis Reyes Rivera has hosted the radio program, PERSPECTIVE, a weekly program on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York City, that merges art and social politic in a uniquely refreshing manner, bringing poets, musicians, arts administrators, teachers and the like to discuss their views beyond the limits of self-promotion. As often as not, his guests perform live in studio, in formats that feature round-robin readings, orchestras and ensembles of every type. During his tenure at WBAI, Rivera has served as a USOC Steward and as a member of WBAI’s Program Council. He can be heard on PERSPECTIVE every Thursday at 2pm.

Rivera is the recipient of over 20 awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award (1995), a Special Congressional Recognition Award (1988), and the CCNY 125th Anniversary Medal (1973). A member of the National Writers Union, he is currently the Chair of that organization’s New York Chapter. The Louis Reyes Rivera Lifetime Achievement Award from Amherst College was established in 1999 by Shaggy Flores, a graduate of UMass, as part of the annual event, “Voices for the Voiceless, a poetry-spoken word gathering that spotlights the talent of nationally recognized artists, as well as celebrate and honor its recipients. La Causa and the Chicano Caucus, in collaboration with several other Five College New England area organizations, sponsor this annual event. Past recipients of the award include: Raul Salinas, one of the founders of the Chicano Literary Movement, Poet Laureate of Sacramento Jose Montoya; Jesus Tato Laviera, a pioneer of New York’s Puerto Rican literature; Nicaraguan poet and diplomat Roberto Vargas; and poets Jesús Papoleto Meléndez, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Roberto Marquez, and Victor Hernández Cruz.

Louis Reyes Rivera has been an active and uncompromising voice for the oppressed and downtrodden. He has represented his community for 40 years, traveling around the world demonstrating that people of diverse descent have a powerful literary tradition. He can be contacted at LouisReyesRivera@aol.com.

artistic statement
Poetry, you see, is as old as breath itself. For when human beings across the planet simultaneously uttered that first initial sound, they gave rise to the same echo heard in the wail of every newborn child. The sound of that cry might be onomatopoeic, but its meaning is quite literal. “I am here, now!” This is the essential affidavit that serves as testament inside every person’s compulsion to give voice to the voice, as condition urges vision, vision provokes thought, and thought pronounces the name of God: “I matter, too!”

Thus the birth of the word, the root of every language. Poetry. The strength of the people. The finest manifestation of craft, content and intent in every written and oral expression. The basis upon which all other literary genres have evolved. From poetry, not only the lyric, but as well drama and narrative, the expository and the thematic, the didactic and the ideological as root to all our scripture, sacred and profane.

It began as a blending of sound (the rhythm), sense (the experience), and color (the given image). A voice raised in celebration of itself. Chant and dance, music and tone, mystery and miracle forged into the embodied literature of people passing it on, by speech and sight, to each subsequent generation, asking and answering the fundamental question: How do we live? And is that the same as how we want to live or what we mean when we say there’s something we’re supposed to do?

Last updated 2009.

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