Happy birthday, Jose Rivera!
Rivera was born in the Santurce section of San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1955. He was raised in Arecibo where he lived until 1959. Rivera’s family migrated from Puerto Rico when he was 4 years old, and moved to New York. They settled down in Long Island, whose small town environment would be of an influence to him in the future. His parents were very religious and he grew up in a household whose only book was the Bible. His family enjoyed telling stories and he learned a lot by hearing these stories. As a child, he also enjoyed watching The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits T.V. series. He received his primary and secondary education in the New York state public school system. In 1968, when Rivera was 12 years old, he saw a traveling company perform the play “Rumpelstiltskin” at his school. Witnessing the collective reaction of the audience towards the play convinced the young Rivera that someday, he too, would like to write plays.
Many of his plays have been produced across the nation and even translated into several languages, including: The House of Ramon Iglesias, Cloud Tectonics, The Street of the Sun, Sonnets for an Old Century, Sueño,Giants Have Us in Their Books, References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot and Adoration of the Old Woman. In 2003, Cloud Tectonics was presented in the XLII Festival of Puerto Rican Theater, an event sponsored by the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture, in San Juan. Rivera helped found the Los Angeles-based theater company, The Wilton Project.
Rivera contributed as a writer to the following shows: The House of Ramon Iglesias (1986) (TV), Family Matters (1989) (TV series), The Jungle Book, Mowgli’s Story (1998), Night Visions (2001) (TV series) and in the “Harmony” segment of Shadow Realm (2002). He also co-created and co-produced the NBC-TV series, Eerie, Indiana with Karl Schaefer.
The Motorcycle Diaries
In 2002, Rivera was hired to write the screenplay for the film Diarios de Motocicleta (The Motorcycle Diaries) by director Walter Salles. The movie, which was released in 2004, is based on Che Guevara‘s diary about a motorcycle trip which he and Alberto Granado had, and how it changed their lives. In January 2005, Rivera became the first Puerto Rican to be nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for “Best Adapted Screenplay” for the film. His screenplay won awards from the Cinema Writers Circle (Spain) and from the Argentine Film Critics Association; it was also nominated for awards by the American Screenwriters Association, the Chlotrudis Awards, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Writers Guild of America.
This work with the subject of Che Guevara later led Rivera to write and perform a play entitled School of the Americas which focuses on Che’s last few hours alive. The play starring John Ortiz as Che, imagines Che’s final conversations, mainly with a young and fairly naive female schoolteacher, in the one-room village schoolhouse where he is imprisoned before his execution. The play was featured in New York City 2006-2007 and later San Francisco 2008.
In high school and later in college, he read everything that had to do with Shakespeare, Ibsen and Molière. His education was directed towards the Anglo-Euro Cultures, without receiving any exposure to the literature and writers of Latin America. However, he was profoundly influenced later by a Latin American novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude by 1982 Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez. Márquez later became his mentor at the Sundance Institute.
Rivera incorporates many of his life experiences into his plays. In The Promise and Each Day Dies With Sleep, Rivera discusses his experiences as a Puerto Rican in a small American town, with an emphasis on family, sexuality, spirituality and the occult. Marisol was inspired by the situation of his homeless uncle.
Rivera has won two Obie Awards for playwriting, a Kennedy Center Fund for New American plays Grant, a Fulbright Arts Fellowship in playwriting, the Whiting Writers’ Award, a McKnight Fellowship, the 2005 Norman Lear Writing Award, a 2005 Impact Award and a Berilla Kerr Playwriting Award.
Rivera currently lives in Hollywood, California. His newest play, “Brainpeople,” premiered in San Francisco January 30, 2008, and was co-produced by the American Conservatory Theater. Rivera will also direct and write the screenplay for “Celestina”, a film loosely adapted from his play “Cloud Tectonics”, which will be produced by Walter Salles. Among his future projects is the movie adaptation of On the Road, a novel by Jack Kerouac.