Rich Villar is a poet, essayist, curator, and educator originally from Paterson, New Jersey. He is the founder of La Cocina, a grassroots series of events, workshops, and interactive spaces both online and offline for the fostering of the Latinx voice in U.S. letters.
Rich is a 2020 NJ State Arts Council Fellow in Poetry, as well as an alum of the VONA/Voices Workshop and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He also maintains an active presence on social media: you can find him on Facebook, and you can follow him on Instagram and Twitter (@elprofe316).
His most recent work is anthologized What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump (Northwestern University Press, 2019) and The BreakBeat Poets, Volume 4: LatiNEXT (Haymarket Books, 2020)
His first book, Comprehending Forever: Poems (Willow Books 2014), was a finalist for the International Latino Book Award and was an Editor’s Choice selection for the inaugural Willow Books Literature Awards. His poems and essays have appeared in Asteri(x), Black Renaissance Noire, Hanging Loose, and Thrush Poetry Journal, among others. He has been quoted on Latino/a literature and culture by HBO and The New York Times. On the radio, his work was featured on Louis Reyes Rivera’s “Perspective,” on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York; on “Nuestra Palabra” on KPFT-FM in Houston, Texas; and on the long-running NPR program “Latino USA.”
Rich has contributed performances to various theater spaces, including NYC’s Town Hall, the Heckscher Theater at El Museo Del Barrio, Luna Stage, the National Poetry Slam, and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. He is a co-curator for La Casita, a yearly festival for spoken word and the oral tradition, at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. He has lectured and performed at colleges around the nation, including Columbia University, NYU, Harvard University, Amherst College, UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Mercy College, and William Paterson University, among others.
Rich has served as a poet-in-residence teaching creative writing and performance to students from middle school to university, as well as various nontraditional settings, since 2002. He is a frequent lecturer and panelist on the subjects of Nuyorican poetics, slam and performance poetry, Latinx literature, and banned books, presenting on these topics for Poets and Writers Live, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), the Mosaic Literary Conference, and the Split This Rock Poetry Festival. He served as faculty for the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching in 2016; he also served as faculty and artistic director for La Sopa, a community-based workshop for creative writers and performers in the Nuyorican and Black Arts traditions.
As an activist, Rich has dedicated his life to the fostering of Latinx arts and letters throughout the United States. In 2011, he staged a multicultural reading of poets in protest of Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070. He co-sponsored and hosted the 50 For Freedom readings with Tony Diaz and Librotraficante, in response to Arizona’s outlawed Mexican-American Studies curriculum. He co-produced and participated in tribute readings celebrating the life and work of seminal Puerto Rican artists Piri Thomas, Tato Laviera, Jack Agüeros, and Frank Espada. From 2003-2012, he was a principal organizer for Acentos, a grassroots house of poetry, performance, and teaching based in the South Bronx, from which sprang the bimonthly Acentos Bronx Poetry Showcase, the Acentos Writers’ Workshops, and the Acentos Review, which has been publishing emerging and established Latinx writers for the last decade, four times a year.
During the day, Rich is engaged in the fields of social work and criminal justice reform, and he currently serves as Program Coordinator for the NYU Prison Education Program.