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Tato Laviera Papers

Identifier: MSS 249

Scope and Contents

The Tato Laviera papers span the years 1964-2013, with the majority concentrated between 1992 and 2012. The collection chronicles the career of one of the Puerto Rican community’s most popular published writers, and one of the early members of the Nuyorican poetry movement. The papers include biographical and personal information, correspondence, manuscripts and typescripts of Laviera’s works, handwritten notes and notebooks, flyers and programs from various events, photographs, and audio and video recordings.


  • 1964-2013
  • Majority of material found within 1992-2012


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open without restrictions, with the exception of 2 folders containing financial, legal, and medical information and the electronic records and microcassette, which are currently not available.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright to papers held by Centro. Original works owned by the Laviera Estate.

Biographical / Historical

Tato Laviera was born Jesús Abraham Laviera Sánchez on May 9, 1950 in the Santurce district of San Juan, Puerto Rico. His father was a philosopher and his mother a writer. Laviera was a gifted student and served as an altar boy for the bishop of San Juan from the time he was six. In 1960 his family moved to New York City, settling in the Lower East Side (known as Loisaida). Laviera graduated from Seward Park High School with honors in 1968 and attended Cornell University and Brooklyn College. He never completed his undergraduate studies, instead devoting himself to aiding youth in his community. Some of Laviera’s early community work included teaching for the New Beginnings Program (1967), serving as youth organizer for Little Star of Broome (1968), and directing the University of the Streets (1969-1972), an educational project to help young adults obtain a high school diploma and attend college. He also became a Lower East Side political leader, serving as president of the New Jibaro Democratic Club from 1974-1981.

Laviera’s strong leadership skills and community activism attracted many social agencies, granting him a seat on various boards. He served as assistant director and director of the Association of Community Services (1970-1980), Manhattan coordinator of United Bronx Parents’ summer feeding program (1971-1973), Associate Producer of Fiestas de Loiza on NBC-TV (1977), and was a writer/consultant for many organizations, including Puerto Rican Association for Community Affairs (PRACA, Inc.), the Puerto Rican Family Institute, Harriet Pitt Public Relations, Bronx Council for the Arts, Dammah Productions Speaker’s Bureau, the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines, and Alianza Dominicana. Laviera was also an educator, teaching basic writing skills at Rutgers University (1971-1973) and lecturing at Livingston College’s Department of Puerto Rican Studies (1979-1980). When Laviera was nine years old, his uncle took him to a literary event in Santurce, where he heard Luis Palés Matos recite poetry. He later credited the occasion as his inspiration for becoming a poet. Jorge Brandon, fellow resident of the Lower East Side, was also an early influence, along with Juan Boria. Laviera became involved with the Nuyorican Poets’ Café in New York City, a venue and movement featuring the work of Puerto Rican poets. In 1979, Arte Público Press of Houston published Laviera’s first anthology of poetry, La Carreta Made a U-Turn. The anthology garnered widespread praise and honors, as well as an invitation to the White House by President Jimmy Carter for a gathering of American poets in 1980. After publication of his first book, Laviera gave up administrative work to dedicate himself to writing.

His second book, Enclave (1981), made him the first Latino author to win the prestigious American Book Award of the Before Columbus Foundation. Poems from his third publication, AmeRícan (1986), have been included in more than thirty anthologies, with AmeRícan being the most anthologized Puerto Rican poem in the history of American literature. Other publised collections include: Mainstream Ethics (1988), Continental (2003), and Mixturao and Other Poems (2008). Laviera was also a prolific playwright. Olú Clemente (1978), based on the life of Puerto Rican baseball legend Roberto Clemente, was published in Nuevos Pasos: Chicano and Puerto Rican Drama and was one of his most successful plays with around forty performances in New York City. Piñones (1979), Can Pickers (1995), Mixturao Revue (2004) and King of Cans, a musical based on Celia Cruz, are also among his best known plays, with The Spark (2006) and 77 P.R. Chicago Riot (2007) appearing in The Afro-Hispanic Review. His plays have been produced in Chicago and New York City, including the Lower East Side’s Henry Street Settlement New Federal Theater, Circle in the Square, and Teatro Cuatro at El Museo del Barrio. Several of his plays were produced by theatre impresario Joseph Papp at The Public Theater, Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, and the New York Shakespeare Festival. Laviera was working on a children’s story Mayanito and a novel entitled El Barrio: Spanish Harlem when he became ill.

In 2004, Laviera became legally blind as a result of a diabetic condition. He became a spokesperson for Latinos suffering from the illness, and developed the “Jesús A. Laviera One-Day with Diabetes Project,” which promoted “sugar slams,” events in which poets talked about the devastating effects of diabetes in minority communities. The American Diabetes Association awarded him their Trailblazer Award, in recognition of his efforts to promote diabetes awareness amongst Latino communities in New York.

Laviera led numerous creative writing workshops throughout his career, including the Hispanic Drama Workshop at the New Federal Theatre (1980-1986) and cofounding “Cosecha Voices” (2007-2009) for first year migrant students at the University of Texas – Pan American. He was also an artist-in-residence at many organizations, including Teatro Cuatro at Museo del Barrio (1981-1987), Talent Unlimited (1999-2005), the Center for Puerto Rican Studies (1997), and El Regreso Foundation in Brooklyn. He toured widely as a performer of his poetry, directing plays and producing cultural events at more than 100 universities, institutions and community centers in the United States, the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe and Africa.

In 2009, a medical emergency left Laviera homeless and nearly destitute. Aided by Lorraine Montenegro of United Bronx Parents, he found temporary shelter at Casita Esperanza in the Bronx. Despite his privations, Laviera cited this period as creatively liberating, and he held poetry readings with residents of the shelter. A May 2010 New York Times article by David Gonzalez about Laviera’s circumstances ignited a national campaign to raise funds to establish the Tato Laviera Foundation, to help the poet and other artists in need. Several months later he moved into a studio apartment at the Taíno Towers in East Harlem.

Generally recognized to be the best-selling Latino poet in the United States, Laviera’s prolific career spans four decades, with his poems appearing in virtually every anthology of Latino poetry. His innovative works have been noted for their bilingualism, biculturalism and the melding of the orality and musicality of Afro-Caribbean poetic traditions with the distinct sounds and voices of El Barrio. Some of his recent awards include the Long Island State University Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2008 Comité Noviembre Puerto Rican Heritage Award (2008), and the Pedro Pietri Hand Award (2009) presented by the Puerto Rican Embassy. In 2010, Laviera was honored with a Proclamation from the New York State Assembly. On November 1, 2013, Tato Laviera passed away from complications of diabetes at age 63 at Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital. He had two children, Ruth Ella and Abraham Malik.


Center for Puerto Rican Studies. “Tato Laviera.”

Gonzalez, David. “Poet Spans Two Worlds, but Has a Home in Neither.” New York Times, February 12, 2010.

Gonzalez, David. “Tato Laviera, 63, Poet of Nuyorican School.” New York Times, November 5, 2013.

Latino Rebels. “An Interview with Tato Laviera, the King of Nuyorican Poetical Migrations.” Posted on July 11, 2012. nuyorican-poetical-migrations/

Note: Biographical information also derived from the collection.


5.5 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Spanish; Castilian


Tato Laviera was an acclaimed Puerto Rican poet, playwright, performer, educator, and community leader. Collection provides insight into Laviera’s life and career, as well as into the Nuyorican poetry movement, of which he was an early member. Collection consists of correspondence, manuscripts, typescripts, notebooks, press clippings, articles, flyers, event programs, posters, photographs, and audio and video recordings.


The collection is divided into the following series:

I. Biographical and Personal Information

II. Correspondence

III. Writings

IV. Events, Projects and Workshops

V. Audiovisual Materials

Other Finding Aids

English / Spanish bilingual finding aid available upon request.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Ella Laviera and Ruth Laviera Sanchez, 2013

Related Materials

See also the Tato Laviera University of Texas DVD Collection.

Processing Information

Processed by Alberto Hernández-Banuchi with assistance from Rebecca Machado in 2015.


Tato Laviera Papers
Rebecca Machado with assistance from the Archives supporting staff.
October 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • August 2020: Joselin Serrano, Hunter College Spanish Major Concentration in Translation, translated this finding aid into the Spanish language.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora Repository

Silberman Building, Hunter College
2180 Third Ave. Rm. 122
New York New York 10065

About the Collections

Our collections consist of personal papers from prominent Puerto Rican artists, elected officials, social activists, writers, as well as the records of community-based organizations. Our largest collection, the Offices of the Government of Puerto Rico in the United States (OGPRUS) Records, measures approximately 2,900 cubic feet and contains an extraordinary amount of information regarding Puerto Rican migrants and the government institutions established to assist them. The collections date from the 1890s to the present, and document Puerto Rican communities in the Northeast, Midwest, Florida, California and Hawaii.