Miguel Algarin’s 1st Reading @ Nuyorican Poets Cafe (March 3, 2011)

On March 3rd, I was in the right place on the right day. The Nuyorican Poets Cafe opened 38yrs ago, but this is poet Algarin‘s 1st reading at the cafe he co-founded. He read a poem inspired by a visit with Miguel Pinero to William Burroughs’ bunker on NYC’s Lower Eastside. “Willy B..Willy B..Willy B!!” It was a rare night organized by Ra Araya, the Poet Poducer Punk, for a person who founded the most influential poets cafe in America.

Founded circa 1973, The Nuyorican Poets Cafe began as a living room salon in the East Village apartment of writer and poet, Miguel Algarin. Algarin, a college professor at the center of this blossoming arts community, was dedicated to bringing new work into the public eye. By 1975 it became clear that there were many poets and too much energy for Algarin’s living room. William Morrow Inc. had just published an anthology titled “Nuyorican Poetry”. Miguel Piñero’s “Short Eyes” had just won two awards as best play of the 1974 season. Poetry, the vital sign of a new culture, needed to be heard live. So Algarin rented an Irish bar, the Sunshine Cafe on East 6th Street, which was christened The Nuyorican Poets Cafe. By 1980, the overflow of audiences led the Cafe to purchase an “in rem” building at 236 East 3rd Street to expand its activities and programs.

“The storied café currently is in the process of expanding its three upper floors with the help of a $500,000 grant received from the city. The money is going toward developing additional performance space, a classroom and a multimedia lab.” Wall Street Journal article

Tunisian Poet Samia Ouederni @ Nuyorican Poets Cafe

After sharing a poem on Facebook in response to the revolution that was happening in her home of Tunisia, Samia was asked to read for Miguel Algarin, the Founder of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Samia is the 1st Tunisian poet to be published in English; and, read at the Nuyorican, one of the most important venues for the development of poetry, music and theater in New York. In 1973, Algarin’s mission was to create a multicultural venue that both nurtures artists and exhibits a variety of artistic works to both enlighten and empower the underclass, it is a mission that has remained true to this day.

“If you have the baby here tonight, the baby will be named Nuyorican” Miguel said with a laugh to Samia before her reading. I filmed my taxi conversation with Samia enroute to the venue about Tunisia, NYC, language and poetry. Ra ,a seasoned Nuyorican organizer, explains how he discovered Samia and why he “wanted her to read for Miguel”. She read 5 poems that night. I shared the poem Samia read in Arabic titled ارادة الحياة ( English translation “Will To Live”) written in 1933 by Chebbi. Part of the poem is the Tunisian anthem and now chanted during the ongoing revolution in Tunisia and Egypt.  She is also featured @ The Poetry Foundation.

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