History & Awards

   

History

Over the last 40 years, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe has served as a home for groundbreaking works of poetry, music, theater and visual arts. A multicultural and multi-arts institution, the Cafe gives voice to a diverse group of rising poets, actors, filmmakers and musicians. The Cafe champions the use of poetry, jazz, theater, hip-hop and spoken word as means of social empowerment for minority and underprivileged artists. Our community of spectators, artists and students is a reflection of New York City’s diverse population; Allen Ginsberg called the Cafe “the most integrated place on the planet.”

Founded in 1973, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe began as a living room salon in the East Village apartment of writer and poet Miguel Algarin along with other playwrights, poets, and musicians of color whose work was not accepted by the mainstream academic, entertainment or publishing industries. By 1975, the performance poetry scene had started to become a vital element of urban Latino and African-American culture marked by the release of a “Nuyorican Poetry” anthology, and Miguel Piñero’s “Short Eyes,” which was a hit on Broadway. By 1981, the overflow of audience and artists led the Cafe to purchase a former tenement building at 236 East 3rd Street, and to expand its activities and programs from the original space on East 6th Street.

Over the past several decades, the Cafe has emerged as one of the country’s most highly respected arts organizations. Our programming includes poetry slams, open mics, Latin Jazz and Hip-Hop concerts, theatrical performances, educational programs, and visual art exhibits. Our weekly poetry slams draw thousands of spectators each year and have popularized competitive performance poetry. Our educational programs (which are funded in part by the city and state of New York and the NEA) provide literacy and public speaking to thousands of students and many school groups each year.  Our theater program has been awarded over 30 Audelco Awards and was honored with an OBIE Grant for Excellence in Theater.

Our Latin Jazz Jams on Thursday nights fill the space with stellar tunes by celebrated musicians. Our Hip Hop events include open mics and competitions for poets, freestylers and emcees, as well as collaborations for storytellers and jazz musicians. We are proud that our ongoing efforts to provide affordable support for the creative life of underprivileged artists have given the Cafe a crucial role in the artistic life of New York City.

Founding Poets of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe:

 

Miguel Algarin

Richard August

Shorty Bon Bon

Jorge Brandon

Diane Burns

Americo Casiano

Lucky Cienfuegos

Sandra Maria Esteves

Eddie Figueroa

Meredith Genin aka Belle Starr

Lois Elaine Griffith

Tato Laviera

Miguel Loperena

Jesus Papoleto Melendez

Jose Parreño

Rev. Pedro Pietri

Miguel Piñero

Bimbo Rivas

Raul Santiago Sebazco

Ntozake Shange

 

Awards

The Cafe’s slam team has been ranked among the top five teams in the nation almost every year since 1990.  We won the National Poetry Slam in 1998, and our slam team is currently ranked third in the United States.

In 2001, our Grand Slam Champion Mayda Del Valle became the Individual National Slam Poet Champion.  Another of our slam team alums, Eboni Hogan, won the Women of the World Poetry Slam in 2010.

The Cafe has been a top-ten finalist for the New York Times Foundation’s Nonprofit Awards.

The Cafe has received multiple Zagat Awards of Distinction.

The Cafe has been named NYC’s best open mic venue by Time Out New York and Citysearch, and the Best Spoken Word Venue by New York Press.

The Cafe’s contributions to the Loisaida community and to the city of New York as a whole have been recognized with multiple municipal awards, including several Manhattan Borough President Citations, an award from David Dinkins, an award from the Municipal Arts Society and the City Lore Token of Appreciation Award.

The Cafe received the Voice Literary Hits Book Award for our publication of Paul Beatty’s “Big Bank Take Little Bank”.

The Cafe’s landmark literary anthology ALOUD: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe won the American Book Award.

The Cafe’s Theater Program has been honored with an OBIE Grant for Excellence in Theater. Theatrical productions at the Cafe have been honored with over 30 Audelco Awards through the years; our award-winning productions include “Julius Caesar Set in Africa” (8 Audelco Awards), “Don’t Explain” (7 Audelco Awards), “Life During Wartime” (5 Audelco Awards), “Shango de Ima” (11 Audelco Awards) and “Monk” (2 Audelco Awards).