Louis Reyes Rivera
Poet, essayist, editor, teacher, radio host, and union organizer with the National Writer Union, UAW Local 1981, Louis Reyes Rivera died in Brooklyn Hospital on Friday, March 2, following a brief illness. Serving as chair of the New York Chapter since 2004, Rivera was revered and beloved by all NWU members who saw him in action in New York and at Delegate Assemblies, providing leadership on union issues and performing his insightful poetry.
Calling himself the Janitor of History, Rivera is viewed as a living bridge between the African and Latino-American communities. Also called "the dean of Nuyorica Poetica," he is an internationally recognized literary figure, with translations of his work appearing in Russian, Latvian, Spanish, and Italian. Rivera published four books, including Who Pays The Cost (1978), This One For You (1983), In Control of English (1988 and 1992), and Scattered Scripture (1996), for which he received the 1997 poetry award from the Latin American Writers Institute. He had just completed his epic poem, Jazz in Jail, and was in the process of preparing it for publication.
Rivera was the recipient of dozens of awards, including a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship (2003), a Lifetime Achievement Award (1995), a Special Congressional Recognition Award (1988), and the CCNY 125th Anniversary Medal (1973) -- each of which was given in recognition of his scholarship and impact on contemporary literature. Since 1996, Rivera appeared at jazz festivals and clubs, working with such bands as The Sun Ra All-Stars Project, Ahmed Abdullah's Diaspora, Ebonic Tones, the James Spaulding Ensemble, and his own band, The Jazzoets. Last spring Rivera was inducted into the Brooklyn Jazz Hall of Fame. At his last public appearance on Feb. 11, Rivera was the featured poet at the American Jazz Museum’s Black History Month Salute to Jazz Poetry in Kansas City, Mo.
Over the past 40 years, Rivera assisted in the publication of well over 200 books, including Adal Maldonado's Portraits of the Puerto Rican Experience (IPRUS, 1984), John Oliver Killens' Great Black Russian (Wayne State, 1989), Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam (Crown, 2001), co-edited with Tony Medina, and The Bandana Republic (Soft Skull Press, 2008). Rivera’s essays and poems appeared in numerous publications, including Areyto, Boletin (Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter), The City Sun, African Voices, and in several award-winning book collections, including In Defense of Mumia; ALOUD: Live from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe; and Of Sons and Lovers. He also appeared on the Peabody award-winning HBO show, “Def Poetry Jam.” Rivera completed the translation of Clemente Soto Veléz's Caballo de Palo/Broomstick Stallion and worked on the collected poems of Otto Rene Castillo of Guatemala, Por el Bien de Todos/For the Good of All.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on May 19, 1945, Rivera was raised there and a proud graduate of Boys High. He began studying the craft of writing in1960 and founded the continuing student publication, The Paper, at City College of New York. After graduation in 1969, Rivera started teaching and his influence as a teacher spanned many generations. He distinguished himself as a professor of creative writing, Pan-African literature, African-American culture and history, Caribbean history, Puerto Rican history, and Nuyorican literature at such institutions as State University of New York-Stony Brook, Hunter College, College of New Rochelle, LaGuardia College, Pratt Institute, and Boricua College, among others.
For 15 years beginning in 1996, Rivera hosted a reading series in Brooklyn, 1st & 3rd Sundays Jazzoetry & Open Mic @ Sistas' Place, where he also conducted writing workshops. For many years Rivera hosted the engaging radio talk and interview show, “Perspectives,” on New York radio station WBAI 99.5 FM (streamed at wbai.org/ archives).
A political activist as well as a cultural icon, Rivera was active in the successful struggle for “open enrollment” at City College in1969. Since then he has participated in many progressive movement and activities, including supporting the establishment of the Freedom Party, which ran candidates in the 2010 New York State election. Rivera co-hosted two Writers for Mumia programs dedicated to freeing longtime political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, one in 2007, the other in 2010.
Rivera is survived by his wife, Barbara Killens Rivera; two daughters, Abiba Deceus and Kutisha Booker; son Barra Wyn ; and four grandchildren, James Booker, Akalia Booker, Quamey Venable, and Jean-Oliver Deceus.