Raquel Salas Rivera

Raquel Salas Rivera

Photo by Tamara Maz


Raquel Salas Rivera is a Puerto Rican poet, translator, and editor. His honors include being named the 2018-19 Poet Laureate of Philadelphia and receiving the New Voices Award from Puerto Rico’s Festival de la Palabra. He is the author of five full-length poetry books. His third book, lo terciario/ the tertiary won the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry and was longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award. His fourth book, while they sleep (under the bed is another country), was longlisted for the 2020 Pen America Open Book Award and was a finalist for CLMP’s 2020 Firecracker Award. His fifth book, x/ex/exis won the inaugural Ambroggio Prize. antes que isla es volcán/before island is volcano, his sixth book, is an imaginative leap into Puerto Rico’s decolonial future and is forthcoming from Beacon Press in 2022. He has co-edited two anthologies. Puerto Rico en mi corazón is a bilingual anthology based on a special collection of handmade letterpress broadsides by contemporary Puerto Rican poets. La piel del arrecife is the first anthology of Puerto Rican trans poetry. Thanks to a 2021 NEA Translation Fellowship, he will be translating the poetry of his grandfather, Sotero Rivera Avilés. He holds a PhD in comparative literature and literary theory at the University of Pennsylvania and writes and teaches in Puerto Rico.

Project Description

To support the translation from the Spanish of the poetry collection The Rust of History: the Complete Works of Sotero Rivera Avilés. Rivera Avilés (1933-94) was a Puerto Rican poet and journalist and was the descendant of formerly enslaved people and sugarcane workers. In 1951, without graduating high school, he became a boxer and eventually enlisted in the U.S. Marines. At the age of 21 he was wounded in Korea, losing an arm and receiving permanent damage to his left leg. During his post-war hospitalization, a family that shared his last name took him in, helped him complete his GED, and set him on a path to receiving an associate's degree at San Mateo College. After graduating, he traveled throughout Mexico as an independent journalist and writer. The scope and subject matter of his work includes being a post-war disabled veteran in a rural Puerto Rican town. This collection will include Rivera Avilés’ complete works and will be his first full-length translation into English.

My grandfather, Sotero Rivera Avilés, was one of the most important poets of his generation, yet, like many Puerto Rican poets, his work has survived thanks to the preservation efforts of his closest friends and family. Many of my early years as a poet were spent reading the poetry collection he had amassed, and which I came to inherit upon his death. Linked by a similar body of knowledge, my love of poetry, was a shared love. My mother taught me what he had taught her, and each of us, in turn, transformed what we had been given. This is a form of translation that I have practiced throughout my life, but is seldom acknowledged.

I have spent the last four years writing and publishing my poems and self-translations, but before then, I was translating my grandfather. This award will help me dispel the notion that translation and self-translation require different sets of practices. It will give me the time I need to focus on translating his work and it will draw attention to both his poetry and the ways in which colonialism forces poets to keep their antecessors alive through various modes of translation.

It will also help contextualize my own work and add to a growing body of Puerto Rican poetry that is being given new life through republication. ¡Mil gracias!