“The People’s Poet” Makes His Transition: R.I.P. Louis Reyes Rivera

Louis Reyes Rivera

Our community has lost another great artist. Louis Reyes Rivera, prolific writer, poet, and activist, has passed. From early reports, he died in his sleep. For those who may not know much of Rivera, he was an influential educator and artist. Steeped in a Pan-African outlook and dedicated to teaching those around him, Louis made numerous literary contributions. Despite earning many accolades, he was always approachable. The winner of many literary awards came to be known as “The People’s Poet” through his embrace of issues of everyday folks. One of his sharpest points of focus was on the connection between African-American and Latino culture.

Rivera was born in New York City in 1945. Raised in Brooklyn, he would come to do some vital things in the world of activism. He was a key person in the struggle of Black and Puerto Rican students back in the 1960’s. Louis was a student leader in the 1969 takeover of City College, and the co-founder of The Paper, a student publication for people of color. Without the efforts of Rivera amongst others, generations of people of color would not have had the opportunity for higher education.

Always willing to reach back into the community and share his wealth of knowledge, Louis could often be found at a workshop or classroom. He would teach on the finer points of poetry, knowing your rights as a writer, and carrying forth the history of the oppressed through artistic means. He was a member of the National Writers Union and performed a piece at the 30th anniversary of the organization late last year. He held workshops at the Harlem Book Fair, and performed on Def Poetry.

Louis Reyes Rivera was a conduit of information, and inspired many artists and activists. He will definitely be missed. For paving the way for countless students of color to gain access to public higher education, I must say Rest in Power, and thank you. Rivera was 66 years old.

-Marc W. Polite

Edit: Rivera was 66 years old, not 67 as stated in the original post.


4.4.12 Update:  There is a great video on Louis Reyes Rivera that I would like to share with the readers of this site. It was created by two Brooklyn-based filmmakers. You can view it here.

Are You With Me? (Louis Reyes Rivera 1945 – 2012) from ivarad on Vimeo.


  1. I was one of the many students who benefitted from the friendship and instruction of Louis Reyes Rivera. He was a far more influential resource than the instruction I received in college. You’re correct: he will DEFINITELY be missed. Louis became a father figure for students of any and every culture while we were at Pratt Institute. His vast knowledge made it possible for the cultures to embrace their commonalities and enjoy a brotherhood on campus that opened their worldview and made them better individuals today. The world has suffered a great loss and I hope that all of us who experienced Louis would carry out his instructions for the rest of our lives, sharing his wealth of information with everyone that we come in contact with.


  3. A great man who helped me a great deal. A mentor who helped me find my way when I was younger. He always had our back at Pratt Institute. Kept me in line, kept my spirits up, always there to lend a hand. Just a wonderful, wonderful person & I’ll miss him with all my heart. Thank you for everything, brother. R.I.P.

  4. BRILLIANT. DIPLOMAT. HUMBLE. These adjectives describe Professor Rivera however, he was sooooo much more! He had a way of making students feel empowered. I was blessed to have Louis Rivera at PRATT INSTITUTE in Brooklyn when I was an architecture student. I took his Carribean Experience class and he was one of three professors of color that I Ever had during my five years at Pratt. Professor Rivera brought a sense of belonging and culture to the campus. He enriched my experience as an African-American female student in a white male dominated field . May you find rest and peace in Heaven Professor Rivera.

  5. Hermano
    (for Louis Reyes Rivera)

    I was fifteen
    you were twenty
    I was in augusta, georgia
    you were in brooklyn by way of puerto rico
    in the same city as the Audubon
    in 65 when they killed him
    in front of Betty
    and all of us
    wherever we were
    watching –
    when I met you
    so many years later
    in a poem you’d written
    that poem was a breastplate
    of my choice
    part of the armor
    protecting me from their daggers
    from the robert sheldon bullets
    aimed at my chest as was
    the american way
    back then

    and america can still anger the spirit?

    it was just a poem
    of divine intervention
    I’d discovered on two, blue ink, stencil pages
    found in some warrior’s room
    after Watts/Bobby Seal/ nixon/ Allende/ reagan
    oliver north/Assata/George Jackson
    Walter Rodney

    being younger in years
    than in anger
    about colored waiting rooms/white only drinking fountains
    four little girls bombed in birmingham at the Sixteenth Street
    Baptist Church/selma/the deeds of j e hoover
    the deaths of Bill Miller Inez Henry Harriette Moore
    Frank Morris Clifton Walker Willie Edwards
    Viola Liuzzo (just a few of the names we know)
    I took courage in you the poet

    Boricua and Black
    as in African
    of Nkruma mind

    in those days
    Lumumba, Castro, Che
    were often ideas on my lips
    shared in the ambulance of civil rights wars
    I became Stokely Carmichael
    in classrooms, on college campuses where my lynching
    was a prediction that failed
    but not from lack of their trying to have me
    become the strange fruit of poplar trees

    this is my story, an episode in the who I am
    unfinished, unfolding
    carried around in my belly
    like an undigested meal

    nineteen years of wanderings
    brought me into the bowels of new york
    marching in bensonhurst
    as I had marched in cities
    flying confederate flags
    over mausoleum monuments
    in well kept graveyards
    where Black soldiers
    returning from Saigon in black body bags
    could not be buried

    in search of myself
    I came
    to Madison Street
    in Bed Stuy
    and late to Harlem
    inhaling what was left of Garvey
    Robeson, of Malcolm
    their voices still heard
    the drumbeat
    in the ears of we who know

    and whether I live the rest
    of my days
    or perhaps another
    you were much of the word, the rhythm
    the reason –
    a town crier, the clarion call, village griot
    in our known years

    a seer
    truth seeker, lie slayer, word weaver
    armed and dangerous
    one of the reasons
    we, people of the covenant, all see

    more clearly –

    When we met in that poem you embraced me with love of a brother

    Paul McIntosh 7-27-2011

  6. Louis you hold a very special place in my heart. I never really had the chance to thank you for looking after me and my fellow brothers at Pratt Institute. I was mesmerized by your presence being a young and lost kid from Queens. Your classes in the summer were refreshing and and really inspired me to become a better human being. You always fought for us when most people looked down at us H.E.O.P students and in fact if it was not for you believing in us we wouldn’t of never been able to succeed. I always pictured me returning to Pratt to find you there, this time not as a young boy but as a man and to show how I’ve turned out. I have a family now and it was my dream to do this…I will forever be in your debt as you were my life counselor and spiritual leader and I will continue to move in the direction you have steered so many of us! I love you Louis! You will never be forgotten!

    Victor Duncan
    Class of 98′ (H.E.O.P and proud)

  7. Me: former Office Administrator of The National Writers Union 5 Years. I worked with my mentor Louis during those years. Sometimes a strong critique that would stir enough in me to re-write what ever it was I was trying to convey. But still he was a very sharp, loving man. I will miss him. I once got a chance to take a picture of his beautiful grandchildren and converse with his lovely wife. Yes I will miss him. His talks on the radio. His walking cane, his voice and well, really remember him and think about the many messages he instilled in me. I hope to contribute to his legacy in a special way. I am now a photographer. T. Ndip

  8. Louis was my uncle,this was very well said.I just wanted to note he did not pass in his sleep,he passed in the hospital,he went in that day not feeling well.

  9. Good evening Mary. My condolences go out to you over the loss of your uncle. Thank you for updating us all with more accurate information.

  10. Your Uncle was a wonderful man. As the article says, truly very approachable. Somehow my email became part of his group email list for his workshops, I live in Connecticut, then I get Def Poetry dvd and he is on it, later i noticed he edited a book of a poet i knew of from Hartford, CT poetry scene, all these connections I say I have to reach out to this man. He responds to my email and then edits a poem a sent him. I would later travel 3 hours one way to attend one of his workshops in 2006, i learned so much and was so inspired. He didnt remember me, but i reconnected with him in 2008 and asked if he would come to the University of Connecticut where I work and perform for my performance poetry class, he said and he did. Just on trust he took the train to Hartford, we picked him up and brought him to Storrs, CT. The students and I loved him. This past fall he edited my second book, cannot express the knowledge and expertise he added to my work, he was so gifted and experienced. I’m so saddened by his passing. Im blessed to have met him and have him teach and inspire me.


  11. I would like to thank everybody for the outpouring of love shown for Louis Reyes Rivera. There are some beautiful remarks here, too many to point to in particular.

  12. 4-9-12

    I learned about Mr. Rivera’s passing last week when I called him to share the information a friend had relayed to me, found within the link below:


    Years ago Mr. Rivera dissected my tuition bill with a poetic grace and made the most complex of equations understandable to me.

    He was a mentor to so many people.

    I want to write more but I am still trying to digest this sad news.

    My sympathy extends to his wonderful family and all who were blessed to have known him.

  13. Louis was a great poet. Using poems like steel beams he built bridges that will stand forever. I met him over thirty years ago at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. The half-assed poets he shamed with his clarity and honesty; the real poets he inspired with his brilliance and commitment to the written word. Noel Rico aka Neil Raymond Ricco

  14. I remember this Creative well. I met him quite a few times, as he and my mother ran in the same circle. He even edited her 1st & only book, “The Unlimited Mind,” by Hyacinth W. Moncrieffe. I recall when I first met him, dashiki, this gorgeous African wooden cane, and a beret on his head. He had a special walk, that was noticeable. He caught my attention, because I was 12 at the time & the shortest person and youngest, surrounded by a bevy of talent griots, and he was a little shorter than me. He kept my attention, when he went on stage to recite. During that time, my mother was also an activist. After Brother Riveria finished reciting? It was then I knew for sure, I would always be a poet. This man was beyond dynamic in his own right. I recall he spoke to me, after I had performed once. He told me I had it & that I was poetry…The man ain’t lied! Rest In Love Brother Rivera.

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