Every year, the National Writers Union’s New York Chapter features four emerging poets who are personally selected by close associates of Louis Reyes Rivera. These four artists are given the extraordinary opportunity to read their original works to the accompaniment of professional jazz musicians in a prominent venue. This year on May 16, a standing-room-only audience welcomed Cesilie Anandi, Cypress Preston Jackson, Nkosi Nkululeko, and Meriam Rodriguez to the stage at the historic Nuyorican Poets Café. UpSurge! JazzPoetry Ensemble’s expert accompaniment made every word from these very talented artists even more memorable. African Voices’ Carolyn Butts and esteemed poet Layding Kaliba also received the 2015 Louis Reyes Rivera Excellence Award for Educator Artists. Nearly 100 people attended including members of Louis’s family. This year would have marked his 70th birthday.
In her note soon after the event, Meriam Rodriguez wrote “I felt so inspired after performing with the Upsurge! JazzPoetry Ensemble and for the family, peers, and colleagues of Louis Reyes Rivera that I immediately went home and started working on my next novel. I am a proud conduit for those that came before us and will continue to write in their honor. Thank you National Writers Union for all that you do!”
A former chair of NWU’s New York Chapter, Louis Reyes Rivera is considered by many as a necessary bridge between the African and Latino American communities. He received over 20 awards as well as assisted in the publication of well over 200 books, including John Oliver Killens’ Great Black Russian (Wayne State University, 1989), Adal Maldonado’sPortraits of the Puerto Rican Experience (IPRUS, 1984), and Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam (Crown Publishers, 2001). Just before his passing in 2012, Louis completed an epic poem, Jazz in Jail (unpublished) and translated Clemente Soto Velez’s Broomstick Station. The 2015 event was funded in part by Poets & Writers, Inc., with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. It occurs annually on the Saturday closest to Louis’s birthday on May 19.
Photo: Cypress Preston Jackson reading to the accompaniment of UpSurge! JazzPoetry Ensemble. Credit: Krishna Yalla