Louis Reyes Rivera: A Death In The Family

By Gloria Dulan-Wilson

You will pardon the rather somber tone of this post, but I've -we - the Black and Puerto Rican Community - have had a death in the family, and I'm having a very difficult time processing it. You may have heard about it – I'm sure my screams could be heard as far north as the Canadian Border, and clear up to Heaven - when the news of our dear brother Louis Reyes Rivera flashed across my computer screen.

Funny thing about modern technology – it has no way of breaking things to you gently; no way of having you sit down and take a deep breath so that you have some means of absorbing the shock. No, our computerized communication can be rather blunt, abrupt, in your face with bad news. And this, to me, was indeed, bad news.

Now, I know my metaphysical, philosophical friends are going to say that Louis isn't dead – his spirit is still with us. True that – but small comfort, when I'm walking through Brooklyn, or at a Jazz Concert, or at the Harlem Book Fair, or one of the many thousands of places we were likely to run across each other, and he's not there to say hi! To give me an overview; to tell me of his latest activity, or his writer's workshop (which, unfortunately I never attended. All those years of broken promises to do so – too late now).

I could go into Louis' bio, but Google, Black Fax, BlackList.net, and so many others have done more than ample jobs of doing so. In fact, I highly recommend you read all about his prodigious career, even if you think you already know everything about him. Because with Louis Reyes Rivera, you could never really know everything. That brother was always growing, evolving, creating, initiating. It was impossible to say you knew the definitive Louis Reyes Rivera – but the Rivera you knew was definitely always joined, heart and soul with his culture, his people, and his quest bring the truth through, dispel the lies, and teach others to do likewise vis a vis their writing, speaking and action.

Being a history buff, myself, I always admired the way he could cut through the propaganda and distortions, using his creativity and is poetic sensibilities in a way that the message was embedded indelibly on your mind. He truly deserved every accolade he received, and a great many more that may have passed him over under some mistaken motive to be politically correct.

It has been said that Louis Reyes Rivera was a giant in Black literature second only unto Amiri Baraka. I say those two giants, contemporaries who have dedicated their lives and their work to Black people are leaders in their own right, and can easily share equal billing. Their contributions complement each other.

I loved and admired the rare times Louis, his wife Barbara and I spent together, whether listening to some jazz great, such as Pharoah Sanders when he made his triumphant return to Brooklyn; or at the Black Writers Workshop at Medgar Evers, or at the Schomburg Library in Harlem, or just out and about. We always managed to laugh, joke, poke fun at the establishment, and maintain our ongoing mutual admiration society. For the most part, though, we kept it light hearted and up beat, not allowing the meanstream to permeate our friendship.

Poet that he was/is even his name had rhythm and rolled off the tongue with ease: Lou-is rey-yes ree-ver-ah – it was such a fun name to say, particularly when you said it with soul and sassiness. I used to tease him and tell him that he should put it to music.

His famous dad-in-law, the great John Oliver Killens, had been writer in residence at Lincoln University when I was a student, still green and wet behind the years. I always felt like I was in a privileged space at LU because these wonderful ensamples of Black greatness would come and spend time with us.

It was actually Mr. Killens who introduced me and, possibly, the rest of the world to Louis Reyes Rivera. It was almost like he was anointed from the beginning. When you got Killens' blessing, you must be something special indeed – and truly Louis was more than special. It could also have been the fact that at the time Louis was also aspiring to marry his daughter, Barbara; but beyond that, those two men, icons of Black literature, had formed a bond that lasted well beyond Killens' passing.

It is also a testament to the depth of Louis' and Barbara's capacity to love that their marriage succeeded where others have failed miserably, only to be ended by his untimely transition to the realm of the ancestors.

My condolences to Barbara and the family, and to the extended family at Sistah Place, the Jazzoets, the conscious (and unconscious) Black community – we've lost a major voice in the community. But thank goodness for the prodigious body of work that is his legacy. We can tap in to that genius at any time and clarify our consciousnesses. We have to say "thank you" to Louis Reyes Rivera for caring enough to make it happen over and over again.

I'm not saying good bye, though. It's like they say: “the song has ended, but the melody lingers on...”

Louis Reyes Rivera's legacy to us will last a lifetime.

Stay Blessed &
Gloria Dulan-Wilson

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