Raquel Salas Rivera has a passion for poetry and dedication to impacting lives and community through writing. The queer writer has been announced as the 2018-2019 Philadelphia Poet Laureate.
Rivera — who identifies with they/them/theirs pronouns — came to Philadelphia more than five years ago and has since made the city home.
“I really fell in love with Philadelphia and fell in love with my partner. I began to build a life here. Part of building a poetic community was tied to the fact I have been a poet my whole life,” Rivera said.
The local poet, originally from Puerto Rico, found out in late November they were going to be announced as the new Poet Laureate — a civic position recognizing an extraordinary poet who continues to demonstrate commitment through poetry, engaging and inspiring others throughout Philadelphia.
“This means a great deal to me because I am really invested in the notion of ‘home.’ I was building a community and family here in Philly to build a richer notion of what it meant to live here,” Rivera said.
The Poet Laureate Governing Committee, a program for the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Center for Public Life Committee, selected Rivera from multiple applicants. Rivera will serve in this role for two years, succeeding Yolanda Wisher, who was named in 2016.
The city poet has been published in multiple journals, including Revista del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena, Apiary, Apogee, BOAAT and the Boston Review.
Rivera published lo terciario/the Tertiary, Caneca de anhelos turbios (Editora Educacion Emergente) and tierra intermitente (Ediciones Alayubia).
“The Poet Laureate Committee continues to be uplifted by the powerful and diverse voices of poets in Philadelphia,” chair of the Poet Laureate Governing Committee Beth Feldman Brandt said in a statement.
“As a poet who writes in Spanish and English, Raquel will expand our understanding of what poetry can be in Philadelphia. We are excited to see what partnerships and opportunities Raquel will create through their work,” Brandt added.
This program also supports a yearly Youth Poet Laureate, whom Rivera will mentor. Both individuals will work with city residents through various events, readings and an individualized project.
“I’m very excited to work with her, another poet. Part of a mentorship is I will learn as much from her, if not more. Mentor-mentee is not unidirectional,” Rivera said about working with Youth Poet Laureate Husnaa Hashim.
The two poets shared their writing at a poetry reading at the Free Library Tuesday night.
“Raquel’s voice will continue to raise this position to new heights and affirm that poetry in Philadelphia is as vibrant and urgent as ever,” president and director of the Free Library Siobhan A. Reardon said in a statement.
Currently, Rivera is the co-editor of The Wanderer and Puerto Rico en mi corazon — a collection of bilingual broadsides of contemporary Puerto-Rican poets published by Anomalous Press.
All sales generated from this collection will be donated to help relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria ripped through the island last year, leaving many without water and electricity. The hurricane claimed more than 50 lives.
Rivera is no stranger to building community strength. Last year, Rivera and partner Allison Harris launched a fundraiser to help LGBT Puerto Ricans who were impacted by Hurricane Maria. The fundraiser raked in thousands of dollars, which went toward relief efforts for Puerto-Rican LGBT evacuees.
Rivera said a focal point is to continue building strong relationships between Puerto Rico and Philadelphia.
“I really love Philly. I am so happy this is the city where I am. I lived in a lot of places, saw a lot of stuff and Philadelphia just snagged me. I’m so grateful I get to be here,” Rivera said.