Showing posts with label writer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writer. Show all posts

Saturday, March 10, 2012

El Gran Antillano: Remembering Louis Reyes Rivera

    • Commentary
      By Shaggy Flores

      I’ve had the honor of knowing the literary genius, Louis Reyes Rivera, as my friend, hermano, mentor, editor, teacher, and fellow Nuyorican Poet. To say that other young writers and I were heavily influenced by his work would be an understatement. 
      Louis was what many of us aspire to become as artists, human beings, and cultural workers. He was a committed African Diaspora scholar who was not only a master of his craft, but someone who firmly believed that the artist and writer should also serve as a servant of the people. He believed that we must all do our part to uplift humanity by addressing social and economic conditions through the arts.

      I met Louis Reyes Rivera years ago at the North East Latino Student Conference in UMass Amherst in Massachusetts. I was one of the main folks to push the most for his attendance as a main speaker. I finally got to meet Louis in person at the Campus Center Café a few hours before he was to open for Dr. Martha Morena Vega at the conference. A few hours later after telling bochinches, sharing history, dropping names on our shared acquaintances, and comparing personal notes, we found that we had common interests. We were two boricua brothers from different mothers, but we were united in this thing called the struggle.

      A few years later, at the first annual Voices for the Voiceless Poetry™ Massachusetts concert which I founded, I was able to humbly honor Louis with a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to the arts and to the community. I named the award in his honor and worked with students in the Western Massachusetts five college communities to promote the annual diaspora Voices concert, which highlighted poets and artists who were unsung. Each year after that first award, I contacted Louis and told him who I had in mind to get the award. He gave suggestions on possible candidates, and together we worked hard to  honor artists who have made an impact on the diaspora. The recipients of this award read like a who’s who of artistic and creative giants in the African Diaspora community.

      Over the years, Louis edited many books, including my first book Sancocho: A Book of Nuyorican Poetry, and Nuyorican Poet Bonafide Rojas' first publication Pelo Bueno: A Day in the Life of A Nuyorican Poet. In addition, Louis collaborated with Dr. Tony Medina (Howard University) and Bruce George (Founder of Def Poetry Jam) to edit three seminal anthologies Bum Rush the Page, Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature and Art, and The Bandana Republic. These three publications were a true reflection of the new literary cannon that is currently being created in American literature, as all three featured some of the best writers in the country sharing their craft openly because of their profound respect for Louis.

      I will miss picking up the phone to call mi hermano to ask for advice or to complain about some of the struggles artists face. I remember that my calls to Louis would last for hours, and he always started the conversation by asking about my family, health, and current projects. He also informed me about his new works. Louis was brilliant. He was one of those individuals who are extremely rare to find in today’s society. 

      One of the last stories I remember hearing from Louis was about the time he met Nina Simone with James Baldwin. He told this casual story to a group of poets during late dinner after a Voices for the Voiceless concert. Most of the group asked what it was like to meet Nina and James. My question to him on this historic encounter, which I now wish I had said out loud, was "what was it like for Nina and James to meet him?” Louis will be the Nina and James of our time.

      He was a badass legendary brother who took “no mess” from anyone. He was quick to assassinate you with the pen when it came to history and politics.

      While he often chuckled when Bonafide Rojas or I referred to him as Yoda (Star Wars) in poetry circles, there was some merit to this nickname. He possessed what is known as la fuerza. If you got close enough to him, you knew that you were surrounded by someone of immense power. 

      He was, and always will be, the real deal, and I hope that all of us who were touched by him could one day live to all his expectations.

      Pa’lante hermano, see you in the next lifetime! Manteca!

      Shaggy Flores

      Nuyorican Massarican Poeta

    • The Louis Reyes Rivera (LRR) Lifetime Achievement Award™

      Founded by Shaggy Flores in 1995 and distributed at the annual Voices for the Voiceless Diaspora Poetry Concert™, this award honors unsung artistic heroes of the African/Latino/Asian-American/Native-American Diaspora Community. The first recipient of the award was famed African Diaspora Scholar and Writer Louis Reyes Rivera, known as the Janitor of History. In honor of his contributions to the African Diaspora, the award bears his name.

      Past Recipients:
      Louis Reyes Rivera
      Jorge PopMaster Fabel Pabon
      Prince Ken Swift
      Sandra Maria Esteves
      The Asian American Writers’ Workshop
      Jose Montoya
      Sekou Sundiata
      Dr. Maya Lin
      Maria Morales-Loebl
      Raul Salinas
      Roberto Marquez
      Jesus Papoleto Melendez
      Tato Laviera
      Americo Casiano
      Freddy Moreno
      Lorna Dee Cervantes
      Victor Hernandez Cruz
      Fay Chiang
      Roberto Vargas
      Luis Disco Wiz Cedeño
      Amiri Baraka

      Shaggy Flores is a contributing writer to Puerto Rico Sun. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Julia de Burgos stamp dismissed?


By Steven Maginnis

There are few people more deserving of commemoration on a United States postage stamp than Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos.  De Burgos, who lived from 1914 to 1953, grew up in poverty in Puerto Rico but managed to go to college through a scholarship and become a teacher - effectively pulling herself up by her own bootstraps.  Later, through involvement with the Puerto Rican Nationalist party, she became a full-time writer and wrote about her love of Puerto Rico, the social struggles of the poor and oppressed, and her own feelings of entrapment and confinement. "Writing in the 1930s through the 1950s," one reviewer for Publishers Weekly, commented, "de Burgos was ahead of her time in grasping connections between history, the body, politics, love, self-negation and feminism that would later prove to be the foundations for writers like [Adrienne] Rich and [Sylvia] Plath."    
In September 2010, Julia de Burgos - who died of pneumonia in New York City in 1953 and was initially buried anonymously because her body could not be identified - was honored with a postage stamp in the U.S. Postal Service's Literary Arts Series, a series of commemorative stamps dating back to 1979 that has honored John Steinbeck, Edith Wharton, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others.  She was thus honored as an American, not an Hispanic American, writer; the de Burgos stamp is part of a mainstream series that's as diverse as America itself (James Baldwin and Richard Wright are among the black authors honored in the series).  In fact, she's the first Hispanic author commemorated in the series.       
But some readers of Linn's Stamp News seem to disagree with the Postal Service's actions. Linn's Stamp News, the nation's premier philatelic (stamp collecting) magazine, holds an annual poll of the most and least popular stamps and postal stationery. When the results came in for the 2010 stamp program poll, the Julia de Burgos commemorative stamp was voted the second worst commemorative design - behind stamps honoring abstract expressionist painters, 548 to 377. It was understandable, as the de Burgos stamp design seemingly reduced the woman to a caricature and featured a background that depicted Puerto Rico's landscape somewhat cartoonish.  
But get this. It was also voted second least necessary commemorative - behind stamps for Sunday comic strips, 563 to 264. 
What are we to make of this? Stamp collectors have always been stereotyped as one thing or another, from overeducated geeks who bore people by showing their collections like they were vacation slides (as Woody Allen depicts them) or, worse, stodgy old white men who don't interact with anyone and prefer to stay home, mounting their precious pieces of postal currency depicting dead presidents.  It's the latter stereotype that this dissing the de Burgos stamp in the 2010 Linn's poll suggests, with an element of racism, misogyny, and sociopolitical arch-conservatism. 
The philatelic community has been fighting this stereotype for a long time.  Black stamp collectors have promoted the hobby to get more black people involved, and the Postal Service itself has issued numerous stamps for blacks and Hispanics.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt, an ardent stamp collector himself, personally saw it to that Booker T. Washington appear on a postage stamp after many black Americans petitioned him to have such a stamp issued.  The ten-cent Booker T. Washington Famous Americans stamp of 1940 marked the first time a black man appeared on a U.S. postage stamp, but its denomination limited its use at a time when first-class postage was only three cents.   As for a black woman on a U.S. postage stamp, that didn't happen until Harriet Tubman was honored in 1978.
So when stamp collectors, who are supposed to know more about history and geography through their experience with stamps, find a commemorative for Julia de Burgos unnecessary, it makes me wonder how many of them open their minds to other cultures and perspectives.  What is it these 264 Linn's readers objected to?  Was it de Burgos's feminist attitudes? Her Puerto Rican nationalism?  Or had they simply never heard of her before?  Were they too disinterested in Puerto Rican culture to at least learn more about Julia de Burgos?
I owe a lot of my own knowledge to stamp collecting.  When I first began the hobby at the age of ten, the U.S. Postal Service was issuing commemoratives honoring the American Revolution Bicentennial, and I learned a lot about how America went from thirteen colonies to becoming one nation through those stamps.  My early collection included foreign stamps, which taught me about countries that had been wiped off the map, like the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which from 1940 to 1991 were forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union.  And yes, I even discovered American poets like Edgar Lee Masters, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost, all of whom I read in school.
Maybe these 264 Linn's readers who thought that a Julia de Burgos stamp was unnecessary should bear in mind that, while Americans working in the English language wrote a lot of our great poetry, they didn't write all of it.  Maybe if they give themselves a chance to learn about Julia de Burgos, they'll find her odes to Puerto Rico as culturally significant as Carl Sandburg's exaltations of Chicago or Robinson Jeffers's musings on California.           
By the way, the kind of stodgy white men most people imagine as stamp collectors are called "Mr. Wilsons," after the grouchy neighbor in "Dennis the Menace," one of the comic strips commemorated in the Postal Service's Sunday comic strips stamps.

Steven Maginnis is a New Jersey-based freelance writer and member in the PRSUN network. To view more of his writings, visit his blog at

Julia de BurgosImage by clarisel via Flickr

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Virtual Boricua Marina Ortiz chats with PRSUN Radio

My guest tomorrow on PRSUN Radio is writer, artist and community activist Marina Ortiz.

Ortiz is the woman behind Virtual Boricua, a site dedicated to boricua culture, and East Harlem Preservation, a site dedicated to East Harlem community issues.

To learn more about Ortiz, check out my blog at

The interview is at 5 p.m. tomorrow.

UPDATE: To listen to my interview with Marina,

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

'Shadow of the Fathers'

The Reading Corner

Join Journalist Robert Friedman this Sunday for a reading and discussion of his novel "Shadow of the Fathers" at a bookstore in NYC's Lower East Side.

Friedman's novel is set in Puerto Rico and is based on a true story that happened in PR. Friedman lived in Puerto Rico for over 20 years, and has been reporting on Puerto Rico for the San Juan Star for over two decades.

Here is a blurb about the book:

In the 1930s an American doctor sent by the Rockefeller Institute to do research in Puerto Rico wrote a letter claiming he had purposely killed eight of his patients. Dr. Cornelius Rhoads said he was doing his part to exterminate the island's 'degenerate' population. He later said the letter was just 'a joke,' but doubts remain. San Juan Star Washington correspondent Robert Friedman uses this factual incident as an inspiration for his fictional account of the aftermath of the event. "Shadow of the Fathers," a suspense mystery, explores the United States-Puerto Rico relationship and U.S. colonialism, from the Cold War to Vietnam to Vieques.

Robert Friedman reads from and discusses his novel Sunday, Aug. 31, 7 p.m., at a free event at Bluestockings, 172 Allen St.

Editor's Note: You can also purchase book at: