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Poetry with Passion: Raquel Salas Rivera, Poet Laureate of Philadelphia

On October 28, Holy Family University hosted its first Distinguished Writer’s Series starring its first speaker, Raquel Salas Rivera. Raquel Salas Rivera is a bilingual Puerto Rican poet, fluent in both Spanish and English, who showcases their writing talent through poetry and nonfiction. Not only has Salas Rivera been nominated for many prestigious awards, they have also been recognized for winning many awards including the 2019 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry and even holds the honor of being named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow currently.

This event consisted of a Q and A session during common hour in the library and a program at 6:30 in the ETC auditorium which was free and open to the public. The night began with refreshments and an opportunity to purchase Rivera’s newly published and autographed books.

Dr. Keith Kopka, Assistant Professor of English, and Dr. Raena Shirali, Assistant Professor of English, opened up the night by providing background behind Rivera’s journey as a poet.

Throughout the night, Rivera presented some of their poems and read parts of their newly published book in both the Spanish and English language. They also discussed the emergence of the We (Too) Are Philly Poetry Festival

Rivera noted the influence of Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too.” Rivera exclaimed, “I want to make people feel the way Langston Hughes made me feel.”

Rivera’s poems evoked strong emotional responses since they personified inanimate objects to life in their works, relating it to certain low points in their life. One topic they talked about was the unfair and brutal government in Puerto Rico. There was a law that was passed and it affected residents dramatically. Universities were closed and the minimum wage was being lowered, and citizens remained in debt most of their lives. 

Their book consists of experiences and difficulties faced in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria hit and left irreversible damage to the whole island. Their best way to cope through these times of stress was to write. Their feelings and experiences were recorded all throughout their book.

After the event, Dr. Kopka stated, “Raquel’s reading was fantastic, and the generous amount they spent in conversation with the audience illustrated the kind of free exchange of ideas that is at the core of the HFU Distinguished Writers Series mission.”

By Hemani Patel. Hemani Patel is a sophomore who majors in Biology/Pre-medicine at Holy Family University.