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Scattered Scripture

Reaching, Claiming, Lunging for the Universe of Things




Books by Louis Reyes Rivera

Sanchocho: A Book of Nuyorican Poetry / Scattered Scripture / Bum Rush the Page

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Interview with Prize-Winning Poet

Louis Reyes Rivera



Part 4

Rudy: You have a four-hour writing workshop the 1st and 3rd Saturdays @ Sistas' Place and you have taught at several colleges. Doubtless, you have inspired thousands of students of writing by your own writings and performances of your work. In the formal classroom, you have somewhat of a captured audience, but the workshops seem to be another matter. How do you keep the students coming? Do these workshops have an importance greater than what would be learned in the formal classroom?

Louis Rivera: First, with regards to formal vs. informal, I can honestly say I've never had a problem keeping students or maintaining student interest in the given subject matter. I've been tutoring/teaching/mentoring since 1969 (even while a student), and the few I've lost (dropouts) have been rare and usually for personal reasons beyond their own control that had nothing to do with us. In both settings, my initial approach has been the same. I connect with them as people who think, not as students who are expected to memorize. I introduce the subject matter from the point of view of full disclosure and rediscovery (what I call "uncovering").

With my social science/humanities courses, one of the first things that come out of my mouth is that "we have been lied to about everything,  . . .  even about the nature of God!" and proceed from there to demonstrate what I mean while at the same time getting rid of superficial walls that tend to separate student from professor. I reinterpret historical phenomenon and show its relevancy to the Now of You, and in that way get them to see the value of what we are delving into, be it U.S. history/culture, African American-Caribbean history/literature, European, etc. What I emphasize is our present connection to the past and in relation to what we will/can do. Since it's always from the point of view of Us and We, students tend to see the relevancy. Since I'm demonstrating the lies, the assumptions that we've been conditioned by, they get to see an "uncovering" of facts, views, opinions, political positions that they hadn't thought about before or falsely held. And since I blend all of that with my own personal experiences and views which are subject to challenge, and do so more as poet than professor, the result is that they don't object to hanging with me.

With writing courses, I first discuss that What they wish to write about is something I will not hinder. My goal is to show them the importance of How it is written/presented. No one can dismiss your work, the validity of your views and interpretation (the What of it) when you have tightened up on How well you formulated it. I don't grade according to which one writes better than another, but according to what each came with in relation to what each is leaving with. You end up grading yourself, because it's a matter of what we were able to do to take you to another level above the one you'd already developed.

With writing, there are three areas of concern that I emphasize: What, How, Why or Content (the experience being reflected in the writing), Craft (the skills necessary to effectuate that experience), and Intent (the intention of the work at hand within the context of that particular intellect, the writer). Each one of these is taken apart during the course of our discussions. Since I don't push value judgments as to your particular capacities, an equilibrium between us becomes possible enough to allow for honest dialogue.

In every school I've taught, students tend to spread the word. You want to take a good class, take Rivera's. With the workshop setting, the issues confronting you include how serious you want to take the boning up of skills and how well you can engage in dialoguing with other writers. They want to write. With me, the possibilities are endless. I present them with the greatest possibility of all: that each of them can do and that it is merely a matter of developing your own sense of discipline and gumption.
Rudy: In your direction of the workshops, what approach do you use? Clearly, in your own writing a broad and critical reading is important. How do you get your students to rethink their topics and their techniques?

Louis Rivera: In addition to the above, I can blend into the same discussion on usage of language with history, philosophy, comparative religions, spirituality from the view of self and society, politics, economic systems, the issue of competition versus continuum, and your own particular intent as it is revealed through your very choice of words; how to interpret what you have written as well as how to read what you have not said. It's a matter of viewing words as tools and weapons, both in the same breath and as a matter of implications --what conclusion can be drawn, what information can be garnered from the very way it was said and not said.

Whatever plan (approach) I make use of is dependent on the workshoppers themselves, where they're at. My job is to take note of what they came with, respecting their own points of view, and get them to see the arena of possibilities they had not previously considered. Different levels of experiences require different levels of approach and how we unfold the matter of depth. Do I have to keep it simple? Yes, I love to use one-syllable words to explain a concept before I make use of the more conceptual terms, but only as a path towards appreciating depth. If they're working on a particular project, we want to see how it is unfolding; if they're not, I give them assignments that I call exercises in each of the various elements and tools available to writers (tropology, descriptive and expository writing, the narrator's voice as distinguishable from the writer, usage of dialogue, narration, characterization, poetic nuance, logical progression, etc.). The variations of each of these depends upon what each of the workshoppers is after and how I can make use of that to open up to the rest of the world of self-expression. And if you don't understand something I said, you know that you can crack on me without an ounce or gram of shame. It's my job to build the needed bridge between us.

Rudy: Could you give us a picture of the persons who enroll in your workshops? Gender? Age? Ethnic group? How long do students continue the sessions? Or are the sessions geared to accommodate various kinds and levels of interests so that it is not always important that students continue the sessions for extended periods of time?

Louis Rivera: Right now, I have about 35 students in my writing workshop. More than half are female, roughly 70% are of African descent from the United States. The age range is from 17 to 50. This particular group has been with me going on two years. I take a break for July and August and they get upset with such a long break.
Since I've studied just about every form of creative and thematic writing there is, there's no problem with areas of interest (fiction, poetry, journalism, thesis). By the way, what makes the workshop work is the realization that we've been unnurtured or mistaught regarding creative writing and self-expression.

Rudy: Your Jazzoetry and open mike sessions @ Sistas’ Place on the 1st and 3rd Sundays, I suppose, are an outlet and further extension of the writing workshops. Your workshop students can both pick up tips and lessons from seasoned poets and, at the same time, try out some of their own pieces. What is the importance of having a place within the community where writers can meet and converse?

Louis Rivera: Actually, the two are separate; Jazzoetry came before the workshop was established. Most of my workshoppers are into prose, and the few who are into poetry don't take as much advantage of the open mike as they should. But that's also a matter of the dictates on their own personal lives; few have the time to go somewhere two days in a row. And you're right! Jazzoetry & Open Mic (that's how the youngsters spell it now) is a solid arena for testing the strength of your work. Even short story writers need to learn the techniques of delivery and intonation, since, when they have to read it out loud, listeners don't have those pages immediately in front of them. They're required to follow the reader's sound and imaginate those words heard, visualizing in their minds how it must look on paper.

The single most important aspect of having a space/place for writers is affirmation. You are affirmed in your conviction that you do have something to say. You are not the only one with a voice to give voice to, yet your voice is equally as relevant as any other. When it comes to us, there are never enough places and hardly the type of writers who can teach without their egos or levels of arrogance interfering with the object at hand. There is also the matter of values. African Americans are not supposed to want to write, much less demonstrate the capacity to do it well, or so we are conditioned by Euro-American presumptions to believe. Puerto Ricans and other Caribbean people, even less so, given that their homebase sense of idiom belongs to another language stock. One of the more destructive lies we are contended by and have to put up with is that of the literary canon. When you speak of fiction, you speak of white male fiction, when you speak of classics, you mean literature by white males. When you speak of poetry and its function in the social struggle, in the development of a people's scripture, that which is not from white folks doesn't matter.

To even consider this as valid is a destruction of if not a detriment to my humanity. I was born onto a planet, and among the items manifesting in my history is a planetary literature, a body of art that includes everyone's voice, with countless precedents and numbers of people who came before me and took the risk of putting themselves on paper, on canvas, on wood. All of it is mine, with my voice as one more contribution to the ocean of it all. But, given the establishment of and exploitation according to caste, class, gender, by myself I would be left to think I have no place. Where then do I get the affirmation I need in order to believe enough in myself to care and to express myself? Because I'm here too, I matter too, just by virtue of my birth. The single most natural phenomenon every human shares is the fact that we come from and are intricate to a nurturing community. Thus, where there are no spaces through which we may each be nurtured, we create them. That's what your crew did with ChickenBones.

<<---Previous                          Part 1  Part 2 Part 3  Part 4

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Bill Moyers and James Cone (Interview)  / A Conversation with James Cone

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John Coltrane, "Alabama"  /  Kalamu ya Salaam, "Alabama"  / A Love Supreme

A Blues for the Birmingham Four  /  Eulogy for the Young Victims   / Six Dead After Church Bombing 

Audio: My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)






update 2 March 2012




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