Puerto Rico has a strong tradition in literature, both among people living on the Island and those who moved to the States. The long list of notable writers who found their success in New York provides an excellent counterargument to those who worry that becoming a State would suppress the culture of Puerto Rico.
Julia de Burgos
Julia Constanza Burgos Garcia was born in Carolina and grew up in Santa Cruz before moving to New York, where she worked as a journalist and established herself as a poet. Her work was highly political, focusing on issues like slavery and women’s rights. She supported independence for Puerto Rico, but left at the age of 25 and never returned.
She published several books of poetry during her lifetime, but was known equally for her civil rights activism. Now, she is recognized as a major influence on the Nuyorican poetry movement of the 1960s and 1970s, a cultural movement comparable to the Harlem Renaissance.
She received an honorary doctorate from the University of Puerto Rico, and was honored with a U.S. postage stamp in 2010. Her name is remembered for a number of places in Puerto Rican communities across the nation, including the Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center in Cleveland, the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center in East Harlem, and Julia de Burgos Park in Chicago.
Esmeralda Santiago was born in Tao Baja, Santurce. She moved to New York with her family when she was 13. She attended the Performing Arts High School and took some time after graduating to try out various jobs before earning a scholarship to Harvard. After completing her undergraduate studies there she went on to Sarah Lawrence. She later received honorary degrees from Trinity and Pace Universities.
Santiago is best known for her memoir, When I Was Puerto Rican, but has written both fiction and nonfiction focusing on Puerto Rican identity and history. The theme of being Puerto Rican in the States is a central motif in most of her work. Examinations of the difficulty of living in a new culture, of poverty, of coping with an embracing multilingual and multicultural life run through all of her work. Perhaps for this reason, Santiago’s work is often referenced as an important expression of the immigrant experience. Santiago, as a Puerto Rican, was of course never an immigrant, but this confusion is common in the United States.
Enrique A. Laguerre Velez
Enrique A. Laguerre Velez was born in Moca. He earned his degrees from the University of Puerto Rico and Columbia University.
His novel, La Llamarada, is widely considered a classic of Puerto Rican literature. He wrote many more novels, as well as plays, for a total of 140 works. He was known for his work towards literacy for Puerto Rico. He was a member of the Center for Advanced Studies on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
Laguerre Velez was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999.
Manuel Ramos Otero
Jesús Manuel Ramos Otero was born in Manatí, and grew up in Puerto Rico, where he completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Puerto Rico. He later lived in New York, but returned to Puerto Rico in 1990.
Manuel Ramos Otero was a writer-in-residence at Columbia University and taught at Rutgers University. His work was largely autobiographical, but included poetry, novels, essays, and memoirs. He is considered an important voice for the gay community.
Ramos Otero was also known for organizing conferences and meetings for Puerto Rican writers and artists in New York, supporting the Puerto Rican literary community there.
Miguel Algerien was born in Santurce and moved to New York with his family in the 1950s. He studied at the University of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania State University, and Rutgers University. He returned to Rutgers to teach.
A poet, Algarin received four American Book Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award. He was the first Latino to receive that honor. He was also given the Larry Leon Hamlin Producer’s Award at the 2001 National Black Festival,
Algarin was co-founder of the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe and anthologist of Nuyorican Poetry: An Anthology of Puerto Rican Words and Feelings.