Raised by Puerto Rican parents in New York City’s east Harlem (El Barrio), poet and playwright, MELÉNDEZ has long been considered one of the original founders of the Nuyorican Movement and the political, intellectual and linguistic topics he approaches in his work remain extremely relevant to this day. He is an award-winning poet, playwright, teacher and activist. Beginning in the 1970s, he began his 40-year career as a poet-facilitator in the public schools, facilitated senior citizen and community creative writing workshops in California and New York. Most recently, he has worked with juveniles in corrections institutions, and co-produced the series of events named “La Patria Resiste” at El Barrio’s ArtSpace PS109 to help the artists in Puerto Rico who were in financial need after hurricane Maria.
In 1974, Meléndez’s play, “The Junkies Stole The Clock,” was the first Latino play produced by Joseph Papp and the New York Shakespeare Festival. His short-lined, quick-turning poems engage city life through a mosaic of metaphor and song. In a 2013 New York Times article, writer David González observes, “The poems of Jesús Papoleto Meléndez have a bopping rhythm, where words cascade down the page and — when he recites them — swirl around the room, through the window and out onto the streets of El Barrio. His poems are carefully crafted reflections on urban life, with equal doses of humor, anger, love and absurdity.” In 1993, he published the poetry collection, “Concertos On Market Street,” merging his Nuyorican melodies with a Southern California sensibility.
Over the years, Meléndez has performed his poetry with his musical group “Exiled Genius,” with Eugene Mingus on piano, and M’Chaka Uba on bass, a trio that combined the tradition of jazz spontaneity and precision with the natural melody of the poetic voice in poetry/jazz collaboration. “Exiled Genius” performed at several festivals throughout Southern California and Tijuana, México, and has opened for such artists as Tito Puente, Urban Bush Women and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. When Meléndez returned to New York in the mid-1990s, he formed “Nuyorican School – Original Poetry Jazz Ensemble” in 1997 with Americo Casiano, Jr.
Among Melendez’s awards are: The Pregones Theatre “Master Artist Award” (2013-14) where the Pregones ensemble developed a theatrical presentation of his works staged at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre; the Union Settlement Association “Innovation Award” (2011); The 1st Annual “El Reverendo Pedro Pietri Hand Award” in Poetry (2006); The Universes Poetic Ensemble Company Award in Appreciation of Inspiration & Commitment to the Development of the Company (2006); The Louis Reyes Rivera Lifetime Achievement Award (2004); a 2001 New York Foundation for the Arts NYFA Fellowship in Poetry; an Artist for Community Enrichment Award (ACE) from the Bronx Council on the Arts (1995); and a Combo/NEA (Combined Arts of San Diego) Fellowship in Literature, recognized “For his innovative multi-disciplinary works in poetry, playwriting, and performance art which speak with eloquence and compassion for society’s victims of indifference, racism and intolerance,” (1988).
His published volumes of poetry include: “Casting Long Shadows” (1970), “Have You Seen Liberation” (1971), and “Street Poetry & Other Poems” (1972). In “¡Hey Yo / Yo Soy! – 40 Years of Nuyorican Street Poetry,” the three previous publications are “sandwiched” as a 386-page bilingual edition (2Leaf Press, 2012). His latest publication is “PAPOLíTICO – Poems of a Political Persuasion,” (2Leaf Press, 2018).
Meléndez, now an elder statesman of the Nuyorican poetry scene, has become a mentor for emerging poets and writers that follow in the Nuyorican tradition.