Louis Reyes Rivera



Upon graduating in 1974, Rivera conducted a writing workshop at the New MUSE Community Museum in Brooklyn. From there grew a manuscript, Poets in Motion, his first anthology. The MUSE did not want to invest in it, and he understood already that mainstream publishers would not be interested. Since he had acquired editing and publishing skills while running a college newspaper, Rivera decided to do it himself, under the name of Shamal Books, the publishing company he founded in 1975. The intention was to develop an alternative venue that would allow new writers of African and Latino and Latina descent to establish a publishing record. In this way, poets and essayists could pass through Shamal and into the literary arena. Shamal Books sold enough copies of its first title to pay everyone something as well as to help finance subsequent titles. Other publishing collectives began to use Rivera as a consultant on their own projects. Through Shamal, he published over eighteen writers; as a consultant, he assisted in the publication of more than two hundred titles by alternative publishers.



Beginning in 1996, Rivera hosted “1st & 3rd Sundays Jazzoetry & Open Mic” at Sistas’ Place, in Brooklyn, where he also conducted a writing workshop. He appeared in Jazz clubs and festivals with The Sun Ra All Stars Project, Ahmed Abdullah’s Diaspora, and his own band, The Jazzoets, as well as on Russell Simmons’s award-winning DEF POETRY on HBO. He also hosted the radio program Perspectives on WBAI, 99.5 FM (www.wbai.org).
In the early 2000s, among several projects, Rivera was compiling material for The Bandana Republic, an anthology of prose and poetry from current and former gang members, and those affiliated with street-based organizations.

“Too many artists ignore the connection between what they have to offer and what the people need. They claim the right to choose which will their mentor be: the status to be bought against the experiences of the remembered. Cultural Workers don’t have that choice. I have to earn my way into each person’s awareness. I can’t shoot for the pockets of a producer. I am the janitor of a history who has to work for his due.

Louis Reyes Rivera, “Who Pays the Cost (Shamal Books, 1977)

        May 19, 1945 – March 2, 2012

Eulogy for Louis Reyes Rivera – Amiri Baraka

People are always talking about The Creator, meaning some great abstraction beyond ourselves for whom and to whom we give deference to if we don’t want to cop to God. When we were in the organization we use to call our weapons “Gods” so you can understand the relativity of the term. But for all our talk about the Creator, we rarely use that term for those moving among us whom we could concretely use that word to describe. And whose creations are knowable, tangible, though wonderful even if we could stand in a bar and have a beer with them. It is as if our familiarity with humanity downgrades its profundity. Like the only truly heavy stuff is what we don’t understand. Like the economy, what’s truly valuable is what we don’t have.

I’m saying this to wake us up to the value of our own earthly lives, and the great creators that have walked, do walk, among us. But also to help us appreciate the grand livingness of what some of us give to each other. Though the contradiction to this is that then we will understand how much we lose when one of those long-time creators disappears. Sometimes we don’t even know who they are. What a tragedy, like the fog of ignorance which disconnects our heads from our hearts so that we can wander through the world and not even understand what’s going on. Though Louis kept telling us, Who Pays the Cost (1978), This One For You (1983), Scattered Scripture (1996), or that great anthology Bum Rush The Page (2001).

And we are always surrounded by Death. Now Death. Past Death. Death to Come. However we have to face it, it marks us one way or another. It is always much closer than we think and even what we think we see can suddenly disappear. Though there is always light if we know where to look. Our friend, brother, here brought it to us direct and its brightness must help light the rest of our lives. But the news of Louis’ passing was freezing and horrible. I read the words and emotionally couldn’t understand them. It didn’t make sense. It was absurd or confused or a lie or whatever is not true or real. But it was both. But how could it be? Amina and I had just seen Louis and Barbara and hung out all day and ate Cuban food and exchanged observations, experiences, facts, beliefs, maps of consciousness We stood in front of the house and waved, “Take it Easy…See ya later …Don’t Take No Wooden Negroes.”

If you know where the light is and it goes out it frightens and pours ice through you. Like somehow you got put out in the cold and the darkness. There is no one I fear losing like the poets. Not just because we do that, but it means there is one less trusted mind and soul in the world. It is a loneliness that jumps us remembering the someone like Louis Reyes Rivera whom we knew to speak the truth. In a world full of lies and surrounded by death and darkness, someone who would bring that wondrous light and truth to us, that we could count on to do that. That we might hear one sentence that would say, put the Republican maniacs in check or even give righteous criticism to some leader who still don’t know how to act. Or simply remark on a truth we needed but had momentarily forgotten, or simply make us hum that hip tune again like we sposed to.

He said in his wonderful essay Inside the River of Poetry “Always there is need for song …and every human has a poem to write …” This last thing comes to mind because Louis was a live poet. And unlike we old heads Louis had mastered the art of memorization, which the generations after mine, have accomplished. So he was a spoken word speaker in the sense of textless recitation, although occasionally he would read. Louis also dug the enhancement that music gave to the word. Because poetry is the musical word at base and the skilled recitation accompanied by or integrating the spoken word with music serves to emphasize both. His great poem “The Bullet Cry or A Place I Never Been” creates the living dimension of Malcolm’s murder, beginning with the tumultuous and relentless question, Was You There? That work must be dug by any who claims information about real life.

We have heard Louis read excerpts from his Jazz In Jail, his masterful word music symphony that speaks in multiple layers of metaphor about the music which is our literal as well as our figurative selves, and we must collectively and unceasingly signify and put the whisper to work until that work appears. These grand creators must not be treated like comets to blaze across our consciousness helping us more clearly dig the world, and then disappear. Especially recently we have been losing grand master poets like Louis, Sekou, Pedro, Mikey, Piri, Lorenzo Thomas, Gil Scott… What have we been doing wrong to deserve such spiritual wasting? It’s like your head and heart are shrinking.
Louis’ death seemed so unreal to me because I always thought of him (and he was) younger than me. Even though he had the Imam’s long grey beard and the staff to go with it, the peripatetic prophet. We got together in the late 70s around the time of his first book, Who Pays The Cost. With a lot of people who will add a deeper cast to any eulogy or obituary, some long gone like his man Zizwe Ngafua, or the cruelly underknown Safiya Henderson, or the writers like Arthur Flowers and his De Mojo Blues, together with people like my wife, Amina Baraka, poets, Tom Mitchelson, Brenda Connor Bey, Layding Kaliba, Rashidah Ismaili, Gary Johnston and his Blind Beggars Press, Wanjiku Reynolds, Malkia Mbuzi, Mervyn Taylor, Akua Lezli Hope, loud ass Baron Ashanti.

And in the spirit of John Oliver Killens, Barbara’s father, Louis’ father in Law, and the Harlem Writer’s Guild which reflected his long historied nurturing of Black writers, we together with some others, put together for a brief storied moment a Black Writers’ Union that met in Brooklyn and seemed similar, one of these writers commented recently, to the National Writers Union which it preceded. That’s the way that do, was my answer. Even so, Louis was chair of the New York chapter of Local 1981 of the National Writers Union since 2004 and active in it from its inception. And he functioned like a real union rep. It was not just a title. If you wanted to know something about the formal attempt to make these Publishing Corpses respect writers’ rights, Louis would publish his work in the union regularly. In this effort were we all, certainly Louis and I and the rest of us brought closer.

I remember Louis talking about his effort in helping John Killens to put together his grand study of Pushkin, Great Black Russian. Lest we forget that until Pushkin made Russian a language that carried literature, the Russians wrote in French. Louis was one of the people most associated with self-publishing. Too many young people loiter unknown in the literary world because they think there is something negative about self-publishing. Thus this attitude keeps us subservient to the corpses. With Shamal press, Louis championed the small press and self-publishing efforts that young poets should welcome.

Louis was always at heart the activist and this is why I always felt close to him. That the word was to spread the truth and the expression of that word was an act of liberation. It was the spirit of the Black Arts Movement, a more activist-oriented reflection of the Harlem Renaissance, which gave us Negritude in Africa and the West Indies, Indigisme in Haiti, and Negrissmo in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Spanish-speaking territories of the Americas. That we would create an art that was as rooted in our real cultural and historical experience. That we would create an art that would come out of the elitist dens of ambiguity and poet for and with the people. That we would create an art that would help liberate those people! Dig his two anthologies Bum Rush The Page & The Bandana Republic. And you could hear Louis working at it whether in his twice-a-month workshops, his program on WBAI (until it was cut off by the white knights), his regular gigs and workshops at Sistah’s Place or his various academic gigs at Pratt Institute and SUNY Stony Brook. One of the most important of Louis’ formal or informal teaching gigs was his insistence on teaching, recognizing, and living the Afro- Latin Hinge that characterizes the whole of the Western world. His rocked hat, swinging cane, his various dashikis above which lowered a long constantly stroked beard animated by a determined march to where ever, arriving with “What’s Happening” and leaving with “Later,” the characteristic Rivera Profile.

Louis gave us the warmth of his feeling, always. We loved him because we knew that whatever he looked like to you, he was a soldier. That’s why we miss him so much. And it is the essence of his soldiering that must be passed on. That’s what we must urge on artists and scholars, not only cultural workers, but we need our most advanced folks fighting for equal rights and self-determination. To create art, and scholarship that is historically and culturally authentic, that is public and for the people, that is revolutionary. This is the paradigm that Louis Reyes Rivera’s life and work presented. Unity with our people and struggle against our enemies. Anyone who really knew Louis would tell you that. They would know that he was a soldier. And we all should know that here, at this precipice looking down into the jaws of corporate dictatorship the new American Fascism.
That we need all the revolutionary cultural workers, all the soldiers we can enlist and develop. Louis Reyes Rivera was that to the bone, to the head of his swinging stick and screaming dashiki. This One For You he said, he meant us, all of us, all the time. Like Sekou Toure said, “Victory To Those Who Struggle.” Louis believed that. He told me so. Unidad & Lucha Companero. Hasta la Vista. Hasta Manana. Venceremos! Later!”

Amiri Baraka
March 8, 2012

Amiri Baraka’s text is Copyrighted © 2012 by the Author

Jamel Shabazz photograph collection, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History

Bibliography and More Information about Louis Reyes Rivera

  • Primary Works
  • Ashanti, B. J. Nubiana, Vol. I. Edited by Louis Reyes Rivera. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Shamal Books, 1977.
  • Ismaili, Rashidah. Oniybo & Other Poems. Edited by Louis Reyes Rivera. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Shamal Books, 1986.
  • Killen, John Oliver. Great Black Russian: A Novel on the Life & Times of Alexander Pushkin. Edited by Louis Reyes Rivera. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1989.
  • Maldonado, Adál. Portraits of the Puerto Rican Experience. Edited by Louis Reyes Rivera. Bronx, N.Y.: Institute for Puerto Rican Urban Studies, 1984.
  • Ngafua, Zizwe. Nommo. Edited by Louis Reyes Rivera. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Shamal Books, 1978.
  • Rivera, Louis Reyes. “Inside the River of Poetry.” Located at inmotionmagazine.com; nuyoricanpoetry.com; nathanielturner.com; and afrolatino.org
  • Rivera, Louis Reyes, ed. Poets in Motion. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Shamal Books, 1976.
  • Sundiata, Sekou. Free! Edited by Louis Reyes Rivera. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Shamal Books, 1977.
  • Secondary Works
  • Chicken Bones: A Journal. www.nathanielturner.com. 2003. See: “Scattered Scripture: An Interview with Award-Winning Poet Louis Reyes Rivera.”
  • “Louis Reyes Rivera: Mentor to a Generation.” Hip Hop Business Magazine. www.hiphopbusiness.com

Since 1996, Rivera continues to host a bi-monthly 1st & 3rd Sundays Jazzoetry & Open Mic @ Sistas’ Place (where he also conducts his writing workshop), in Brooklyn, and has appeared in Jazz clubs and festivals with The Sun Ra All-Stars Project, Ahmed Abdullah’s Diaspora, and his own band, The Jazzoets. He has recently appeared on C-SPAN, as part of the REPARATIONS NOW! rally held in Washington, D.C., this past August 17th, and on Russell Simmons’ DEF POETRY on HBO. Currently, Louis Reyes Rivera can be heard every Thursday, at 2 pm, on radio station WBAI (99.5 FM), hosting his own weekly show, PERSPECTIVE.

Contact: Shamal Books, GPO Box 16, NYC 10116 (718) 622 4426 Louisreyesrivera@aol.com

– Sandra Maria Esteves

Books by Louis Reyes Rivera

The Bandana Republic
A Literary Anthology by Gang Members and Their Affiliates
by Louis Reyes Rivera, Bruce George, Jim Brown
Paperback, 288 Pages, Published 2008 by Soft Skull Press
ISBN-13: 978-1-59376-194-3, ISBN: 1-59376-194-5

“Urban youth gangs are typically viewed as no more than training grounds for thugs and felons. This breakthrough anthology presents a far different picture, revealing present and former gang members’ and street activists’ artistic impulses, emotional sensitivities, political beliefs, and capacities to assess the social conditions that created them. The Bandana Republic contains powerful writing: fiction and essays, poetry, and polemics w …”

Bum Rush the Page (1st Edition)
A Def Poetry Jam
by Tony Medina, Louis Reyes Rivera, Sonia Sanchez
Paperback, 320 Pages, Published 2001 by Broadway Books
ISBN-13: 978-0-609-80840-5, ISBN: 0-609-80840-0

“Bum Rush the Page is a groundbreaking collection, capturing the best new work from the poets who have brought fresh energy, life, and relevance to American poetry.“Here is a democratic orchestration of voices and visions, poets of all ages, ethnicities, and geographic locations coming together to create a dialogue and to jam–not slam. This is our mouth on paper, our hearts on our sleeves, our refusal to shut up and swallow our silence. …”

Writer in the Library
41 Writers Reveal How They Use Libraries to Develop Their Skill, Craft & Careers
by Lee Mcqueen, Patrick Carman, John Nance, Roscoe Ormon, J. A. Jance, Phil Foglio, Qurayshi Ali Lansana, Louis Reyes Rivera, Marc Kelly Smith, Lydia Diamond, Kirk Hanley, Zaid Abdul-Aziz, Alan Axelrod, Anthony Chiffolo, Olofunmilayo Olopade, Chris Pramas, Raul Nino, Rudolfo Anaya, Rita Dove
Paperback, 172 Pages, Published 2008 by Mcqueen Press
ISBN-13: 978-0-9798515-4-4, ISBN: 0-9798515-4-8

“This non-fiction reference work collects the interviews and submissions of fiction and non-fiction writers who discuss the impact of libraries on their career development. Numerous transcripts, photos, biographies, library quotations, footnotes, a glossary, and an index present the information as a teaching tool for the reader. The contributors cross gender, race, political, philosophical, cultural, subject, and genre lines. Each had so …”

Real Dads Stand Up! (1st Edition)
What Every Single Father Should Know About Child Support, Rights, And Custody
by Alicia M. Crowe, Louis Reyes Rivera
Paperback, 226 Pages, Published 2005 by Unknown
Large Print
ISBN-13: 978-0-9764772-0-4, ISBN: 0-9764772-0-3

“Every year thousands of parents like you go into custody and/or child support proceedings in family court. When they know what to do, they can get through it successfully. When they don’t, the consequences can be brutal. You can maneuver the system. Yes, it is possible. This easy-to-read guide takes you through every step of the child support and child custody process. Whether you are a single father or mother you will benefit from this …”

Jazz In Jail
by Louis Reyes Rivera
Paperback, Published 2016 by Blind Beggar Press
ISBN-13: 978-0-940738-34-8, ISBN: 0-940738-34-1

“Louis Reyes Rivera (1945-2012) was Brooklyn born and bred in the Bedford-Stuyvesant community. A graduate of old Boys High School and the City College of New York, he was a poet, editor, essayist, publisher, and professor of African-American, Puerto Rican, and Caribbean history, literature, and culture. He authored three previous volumes of poetry, Who Pays The Cost, This One For You, and Scattered Scriptures, which won the 1997 Poetry Awar …”

The Bandana Republic
A Literary Anthology by Gang Members and Affiliates
by Louis Reyes Rivera, Martin Millar
388 Pages, Published 2010 by Readhowyouwant.Com
ISBN-13: 978-1-4587-8098-0, ISBN: 1-4587-8098-8

“Chantay “Legacy” Leonard I don’t want to remember gun blast blues or misty chronic memories that shimmer in the pool of lost souls at my feet These words shall be as passages from the Book of the Dead for these are the names that shall never be written in the Book of Life countless rubies encased in the crystal dripping from my cheeks streak the broken concrete where metallic shells once rang leaving rotting shells of once warm, br …”

Scattered Scripture
by Louis Reyes Rivera, James Yates
Paperback, 162 Pages, Published 1996 by Shamal Books
ISBN-13: 978-0-917886-12-6, ISBN: 0-917886-12-7

“From the back cover: “Often compared to Arthur A. Schomberg and Ramon Emeterio Betances, Louis Reyes Rivera is viewed as many as a bridge between our Pan-American African and Latino communities. With this third book of poetry, he demonstrates why he is called “The Janitor of History.” Here is a testament on behalf of the disinherited, an oration against the distortions of history; poetry at its finest. Every stanza and line singes with so …”


The Bandana Republic
A Literary Anthology by Gang Members and Their Affiliates
by Louis Reyes Rivera, Jesse Jackson, Bruce George, Jim Brown
Paperback, 288 Pages, Published 2007 by Soft Skull Press
ISBN-13: 978-1-933368-27-6, ISBN: 1-933368-27-6

“An anthology of prose and poetry by current and former gang members offers insight into the emotional, political, and socioeconomic qualities of gang culture …”


Living in the Shadows of Che Guevara
by Guerrero, L., Reyes Rivera, Louis
Paperback, 444 Pages, Published 2019 by Floricanto Press, United States
ISBN-13: 978-1-951088-00-2, ISBN: 1-951088-00-X

“This is an international crime story with the ghosts and skeletons of history. This story melds the personal, and the individual characters, with the political and international which is handled organically.”

Advanced Elvis Course
by C. A. Conrad, Bruce George, Louis Reyes Rivera
Paperback, 132 Pages, Published 2011 by Readhowyouwant
Large Print
ISBN-13: 978-1-4596-1908-1, ISBN: 1-4596-1908-0

“Part psychedelic road-trip travelogue, part ”Overheard in Graceland,” part mystic-religious devotional, CAConrad’s unabated love for the King puts him on a pilgrimage to Memphis; on an Advanced Elvis Course. These bizarre, multifaceted short pieces are an homage bursting with love, oddball white trash, and twisted sincerity. Using a mélange of breathless energy and flamboyant desire, Conrad ensnares his reader from the first vignette, …”


The Bandana Republic
A Literary Anthology by Gang Members and Their Affiliates
by Louis Reyes Rivera, Bruce George
288 Pages, Published 2008 by Soft Skull Press
ISBN-13: 978-1-59376-331-2, ISBN: 1-59376-331-X

“Originally, federal housing projects were constructed for transient residents—a brief stop-off before moving on to claim the American Dream of white picket fences, two kids, and a dog. Suburban life. But for the overall majority of returning Black …”


Bandanas and October Supplies
A Memoir
by M. Dylan Raskin, Louis Reyes Rivera
Paperback, 176 Pages, Published 2006 by Da Capo Press
ISBN-13: 978-1-56025-753-0, ISBN: 1-56025-753-9

“From Publishers Weekly Raskin (Little New York Bastard) uses his delightful, fresh voice in depicting himself: a young alienated New Yorker who must learn to continue in an unfeeling world after the death of his beloved mother. Mike’s good-bye visit to his psychiatrist frames these colloquial episodes. “Jitters in Lake George,” the first segment, relays Mike’s strange vacation with his sickly mother, Francine, to the resort they cherish …”


The Bandana Republic
A Literary Anthology by Gang Members & Their Affiliates [With Headphones]
by Louis Reyes Rivera
Published by Playaway
ISBN-13: 978-1-60812-848-8, ISBN: 1-60812-848-2


The Bandana Republic (Unabridged)
A Literary Anthology by Gang Members and Their Affiliates
by Louis Reyes Rivera, Bruce George, Adisa Banjoko, Fidel Jauregui, Kareem Chadlfy, Chuck D. Jahi, Nishat Kurwa, T- Kash
Cd, Published 2016 by Audible Studios On Brilliance Audio
Audiobook, Mp3 Audio, Unabridged
ISBN-13: 978-1-5318-0052-9, ISBN: 1-5318-0052-1

“Urban youth gangs are typically viewed as no more than training grounds for thugs and felons. This breakthrough anthology presents a far different picture, revealing present and former gang members and street activists’ artistic impulses, emotional sensitivities, political beliefs, and capacities to assess the social conditions that created them. The Bandana Republic contains powerful writing: fiction and essays, poetry, and polemics w …”


Bum Rush the Page (Reprint)
A Def Poetry Jam (Wheeler Large Print Book Series)
by Tony Medina, Louis Reyes Rivera
Library, 282 Pages, Published 2008 by Paw Prints 2008-06-05
ISBN-13: 978-1-4352-9611-4, ISBN: 1-4352-9611-7


This One for You
by Louis Reyes Rivera
Paperback, 101 Pages, Published 1983 by Shamal Books
ISBN-13: 978-0-917886-08-9, ISBN: 0-917886-08-9

The Nubian Gallery
A Poetry Anthology
by Bob Mcneil, Arthur Amaker, K.C. Washington, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, Eric C. Webb, R. Edward Lee, Shirley E. Riley, Abba Elethea, Louis Reyes Rivera
Paperback, 121 Pages, Published 2001 by Blacfax Publications
ISBN-13: 978-1-890886-04-2, ISBN: 1-890886-04-1

“The Nubian Gallery is an exciting collection of provocative and memorable poems by talented African-Americans, some seasoned and familiar, others relatively new, but worthy of critical attention. This is an artful blending of voices producing fresh material that has not been over-exposed, as is the case in far too many other anthologies.” (Naomi Long Madgett) The anthology includes the work of 38 poets.”

Who pays the Cost
by Louis Reyes Rivera
Paperback, 40 Pages, Published 1977 by Shamal Books, NY
ISBN-13: 978-0-917886-03-4, ISBN: 0-917886-03-8



phati’tude Literary Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 4, winter 2011
Celebrating Black History Through Literature: From the Harlem Renaissance to Today
by Jon Sands, Lora Rene Tucker, Lorraine Miller Nuzzo, Danny Simmons, Gabrielle David, Jennifer Nicole Bacon, Louis Reyes Rivera
Paperback, 246 Pages, Published 2011 by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
ISBN-13: 978-1-4609-2626-0, ISBN: 1-4609-2626-9

“platitude Literary Magazine is a quarterly publication that publishes poetry, fiction, and essays written by both emerging and established writers of diverse origins whose works exhibit social, political, and cultural awareness. Published by the Intercultural Alliance of Artists & Scholars, Inc. (IAAS) a NY-based nonprofit organization. Our Winter 2011 issue, “Celebrating Black History Through Literature: From the Harlem Renaissance to …”


Bum Rush the Page Bum Rush the Page
by Louis Reyes Rivera, Tony Medina
Ebook, 320 Pages, Published 2009 by Potter Style
ISBN-13: 978-0-307-56564-8, ISBN: 0-307-56564-5

“Layding Lumumba Kaliba is the poetry editor of African Voices literary magazine and the author of several volumes of poetry, including Up on the Down Side, Still Outraged, and The Moon Is My Witness. and African Spirits & Anthems. Poet and political activist Eliot Katz is co-founder of the literary magazine Longshot and the author of Space: And Other Poems. Unlocking the Exits and co-editor of Poems for the Nation. Douglas Kearney was …”


Louis Reyes Rivera transitioned on March 3rd, 2012

(All Rights Reserved) COPYRIGHT @ Dale Shields/Arthur T. Wilson ( Iforcolor.org )


B5                     LINKS








Louis Reyes Rivera – “Bullet Cry” – Def Poetry

louis reyes

Louis Reyes Rivera & the Jazzoets (two)