Lauded contemporary Latinx playwright’s papers will enrich the Hay’s holdings by artists of color in its distinctive Performance & Entertainment collecting area
The John Hay Library has acquired the papers of award-winning Puerto Rican-American playwright and screenwriter José Rivera. Serving as a foundational collection within the Hay’s Performance & Entertainment collecting direction, this trove of material will offer scholars and students a window into the contemporary life and work of a singularly talented writer whose work centers the lived experience of Puerto Rican-Americans. Consisting of 20 boxes, the papers include handwritten drafts, playscripts, notebooks, correspondence, promotional materials, press clippings, photographs, and juvenilia.
Amanda E. Strauss, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections, is thrilled that the Performance & Entertainment area of collecting will be bolstered in such a remarkable way:
José Rivera is such an important creative voice, and this collection will allow students and scholars to understand his writing process and to see firsthand how he brings his vision to fruition. This material will be heavily used by an international audience, and I’m proud that Mr. Rivera chose the John Hay Library as his partner in preserving and making accessible his archival legacy.
Born in Puerto Rico in 1955, Mr. Rivera moved to Long Island, NY with his family when he was five years old. He grew up surrounded by books. Though his grandparents could not read or write, they were gifted storytellers, and he realized he wanted to be a writer in his adolescent years. In 1989, he took part in the Sundance Institute workshop led by Nobel Prize winning writer and journalist Gabriel García Márquez, whose magical realist style has been an influence on his work. His plays have been produced internationally and include “Sueño,” which Mr. Rivera translated and adapted from the play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, recently produced this spring at Trinity Rep in Providence, RI and directed by Brown/Trinity alumna Tatyana-Marie Carlo, MFA’ 20 d. Mr. Rivera has written many plays, two of which received Obie Awards: “Marisol” (1993) and “References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot” (2001); other plays include “The Promise,” “Each Day Dies with Sleep,” “Cloud Tectonics,” “The Street of the Sun,” “Sonnets for an Old Century,” “School of the Americas,” “Brainpeople,” “Giants Have Us in Their Book,” and “The House of Ramon Iglesia.”
Mr. Rivera visited Brown in April during which time he attended classes with English and Brown/Trinity MFA students, toured the construction site of the new Performing Arts Center with Brown Arts Institute leadership, and met with members of the Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies. Patricia Ybarra, Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, explains the significance of this acquisition:
Bringing José Rivera’s papers to Brown will allow researchers and artists to experience the thinking, aesthetics, and creative process of one of the most important and contemporary Latinx playwrights. This collection expands the Brown University Library’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in the arts by expanding their collections to include the papers of contemporary artists of color as a key part of the Hay Library’s rich archive of contemporary plays and performance.
Mr. Rivera’s plays have been published by Viking Press, Mentor Books, Dramatists Play Service, Dramatics magazine, Samuel French, Broadway Play Publishing, American Theatre magazine, Theatre Communications Group and Smith & Kraus.
In addition to playwriting, Mr. Rivera is also a gifted and accomplished screenwriter. His screenplay for the feature film “The Motorcycle Diaries” was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 2005, making him the first Puerto Rican writer to be nominated for an Academy Award. Also nominated for a BAFTA and a Writers Guild Award, “The Motorcycle Diaries” won top writing awards in Spain and Argentina. His screenplay, based on Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and was distributed nationally in the winter of 2013. His film “Trade” was the first film to premiere at the United Nations, and he has many other screenplays and screenwriting credits to his name including work in television such as, “The House of Ramon Iglesia; A.K.A. Pablo” for PBS’s “American Playhouse” (Norman Lear, producer); “The Eddie Matos Story; Eerie, Indiana” (co-creator and producer); “Goosebumps; Mayhem” (Bob Cooper, producer); “The Conquest” (Ron Howard, producer); and “Latino Roots,” an untitled 10-hour limited series for HBO. Avery Willis Hoffman, Artistic Director of the Brown Arts Institute, says of Mr. Rivera’s writing:
José Rivera’s seminal works for stage and screen have tackled some of the most pressing social issues of our time — violence, racism and misogyny, mental illness, poverty, climate change; as we work towards the opening of our new Performing Arts Center in late 2023, new creative collaborations and ongoing engagements with artists such as José will define the powerful ways in which art makes space for the exploration of challenging topics.
Mr. Rivera is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Sundance Institute and has been a creative advisor for Screenwriting Labs in Utah, Jordan and India. A member of the LAByrinth Theatre Company and Ensemble Studio Theatre, he leads a weekly writing workshop in New York City, where he lives.
Cataloging of the contents of the collection is ongoing. Requests to view the collection can be made online through the John Hay Library’s website.