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Nation & World

Miguel Algarin, Force Behind New York's Beloved Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Dies At 79

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Poet Miguel Algarin, who founded the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York, has died. He was 79. Algarin is best remembered for creating a performance space for poets, musicians and actors. NPR's Mandalit del Barco has this reflection.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Miguel Algarin was a Nuyorican - a New Yorker born in Puerto Rico. In the early 70s, he hosted salons for poets and actors at his East Village apartment. When the soirees got too big, Algarin moved them to an abandoned Irish bar across the street, then to East Third Street.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "FRIED SHOES, COOKED DIAMONDS")

MIGUEL ALGARIN: They marked Sunday services, poetry project, community bulletin boards (ph).

DEL BARCO: That's Algarin in the 1979 documentary "Fries Shoes, Cooked Diamonds." With fellow poets Miguel Pinero and Lucky Cienfuegos, Algarin opened the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. For decades, the multicultural spot featured experimental theater, music and, most of all, poetry slams.

BOB HOLMAN: It was Miguel's place, you know? He was el jefe.

DEL BARCO: Poet Bob Holman co-edited an anthology of Nuyorican poets with his friend.

HOLMAN: He grew up in the projects and then ended up teaching Shakespeare at Rutgers. So he brought with him this kind of presence of somebody who had made it in the academy and also somebody who had his other foot right there on the sidewalk.

DEL BARCO: Algarin, a professor for more than 30 years, wrote books and translated Pablo Neruda's poems. Holman remembers him holding court at his cafe, performing his poems about the neighborhood and living with HIV.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALGARIN: If I were to show you how to continue holding on, I would not kiss you. I would not mix the fluids of my body with you.

DEL BARCO: Miguel Algarin inspired generations of Latinx and Black poets and artists. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.