Louis Reyes Rivera was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Puerto Rican parents. He earned his BA from the City College of New York. His collections of poetry include Who Pays the Cost (1977), This One for You (1983), In Control of English (1988, 1992), and Scattered Scripture (1996), which won the Poetry Award from the Latin American Writers Institute. Rivera was working on an epic poem, Jazz in Jail, at the time of his death. He spent much of his long career as poet, teacher, activist, and translator attempting to act, in his words, “as a bridge between the various currents of the underclass”; he elsewhere described himself as the “Janitor of History.”
Instrumental in the CCNY student movement of 1969, which eventually led to open admissions policies and the Ethnic Studies Department, Rivera cofounded the Paper, the first newspaper run by Puerto Rican and African American students at the school. Rivera’s commitment to social justice shaped his life; an active union organizer, he helped establish the Freedom Party, which has run candidates for state elections. Rivera was also involved in the Writers for Mumia initiative.
Rivera’s many honors and awards included a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, a Special Congressional Recognition Award, and the CCNY 125th Anniversary Medal. Committed to the progressive and political power of jazz as well as poetry, Rivera appeared at dozens of jazz clubs and festivals and was inducted into the Brooklyn Jazz Hall of Fame.
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