José Rivera (playwright)

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José Rivera
Rivera in 2009
Rivera in 2009
Born (1955-03-24) March 24, 1955 (age 68)[1]
San Juan, Puerto Rico[1]
OccupationScreenwriter, playwright
Notable worksMarisol
The Motorcycle Diaries Letters to Juliet
On the Road
Notable awardsObie Award, Goya Award, Academy Award (nom.)

José Rivera (born March 24, 1955) is a playwright and the first Puerto Rican screenwriter to be nominated for an Academy Award for the movie, The Motorcycle Diaries.

Early years[edit]

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 5 years old, and moved to New York City. They settled down in Long Island, whose small town environment would be of an influence to him in the future. His father was a taxi driver, he said "...for a long time I just wanted to do better than for years I wanted to be a bus driver."[2] 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. 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.[3][4]


Many of his plays have been produced across the nation and even translated into several languages, including: The House of Ramon Iglesia, 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.[3][4]

Rivera's 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 recent projects is the movie adaptation of On the Road, based on the novel by Jack Kerouac.[3][4]


Rivera contributed as a writer to the following shows: ‘’a.k.a.Pablo’’ (1984) (TV series), The House of Ramon Iglesia (1986) (TV), Family Matters, Goosebumps, The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story (1998), Night Visions (2001) (TV series) and the "Harmony" segment of Shadow Realm (2002). He also co-created and co-produced the NBC-TV series, Eerie, Indiana with Karl Schaefer.[3][4]

TV appearances[edit]

Rivera was featured in The Dialogue interview series. In this 90 minute interview with producer Mike DeLuca, Rivera describes his transition from playwright to Oscar-nominated screenwriter.[3][4]

The Motorcycle Diaries[edit]

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 for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. 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 Online Film Critics Society, and the Writers Guild of America.[5][6]

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 naïve 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.[4][7]


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.[3][4]

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.[3]

Awards and honors[edit]

Rivera has won two Obie Awards for playwriting, a Kennedy Center Fund for New American plays Grant, a Fulbright Arts Fellowship in playwriting, a Whiting Award, a McKnight Fellowship, the 2005 Norman Lear Writing Award, a 2005 Impact Award and a Berilla Kerr Playwriting Award.[3]


  • The House of Ramon Iglesia (1983)
  • The Promise (1988)
  • Each Day Dies With Sleep (1990)
  • Marisol (1992)
  • Tape (1993)
  • Flowers (1994)
  • Giants Have Us In Their Books (1997)
  • Cloud Tectonics (1995)
  • Maricela De La Luz Lights The World
  • Godstuff
  • Adoration of the Old Woman
  • The Street of the Sun (1996)
  • Sueno (1998)
  • Lovers of Long Red Hair (2000)
  • References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot (2000)
  • Sonnets for an Old Century (2000)
  • School of the Americas (2006)
  • Massacre (Sing To Your Children) (2007)
  • Brainpeople (2008)
  • Boleros for the Disinchanted (2008), world premiere Yale Repertory Theatre
  • Human Emotional Process (2008), commissioned by McCarter Theatre
  • Pablo and Andrew at the Altar of Words (2010)
  • Golden (2010)
  • The Kiss of the Spider Woman (translation) (2010)
  • The Hours are Feminine (2011)
  • Lessons for an Unaccustomed Bride (2011)
  • The Book of Fishes (2011)
  • Another Word for Beauty (2012), musical, music and lyrics by Héctor Buitrago, book by Rivera, production of The Civilians[8]
  • Written on my Face (2012)
  • Another Word for Beauty (2013)
  • The Last Book of Homer (2013)
  • The Garden of Tears and Kisses (2014)
  • Sermon for the Senses (2014)
  • Charlotte (2014)
  • The Untranslatable Secrets of Nikki Corona[9]

Many of these plays are published by Broadway Play Publishing Inc.

Bibliography of Scholarly Criticism[edit]

  1. Toward a Rhetoric of Sociospatial Theatre: José Rivera's Marisol By: J. Chris Westgate, Theatre Journal, 2007 March; 59 (1): 21–37.
  2. Split Personality: Random Thoughts on Writing for Theater and Film By: José Rivera, Cinema Journal, 2006 Winter; 45 (2): 89–92.
  3. The Motorcycle Diaries By: Yon Motskin, Creative Screenwriting, 2005 January-Feb; 12 (1): 89.
  4. 'An Urgent Voice for Our Times': An Interview with José Rivera By: Caridad Svich, Contemporary Theatre Review: An International Journal, 2004 November; 14 (4): 83–89.
  5. Die Imaginierung ethnischer Weltsicht im neueren amerikanischen Drama By: Herbert Grabes, IN: Schlote and Zenzinger, New Beginnings in Twentieth-Century Theatre and Drama: Essays in Honour of Armin Geraths. Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher; 2003. pp. 327–44
  6. José Rivera By: Miriam Chirico, IN: Wheatley, Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, Third Series. Detroit, MI: Thomson Gale; 2002. pp. 281–301
  7. Marisol, Angels, and Apocalyptic Migrations By: Jon D. Rossini, American Drama, 2001 Summer; 10 (2): 1-20.
  8. An Interview with Jose Rivera By: Norma Jenckes, American Drama, 2001 Summer; 10 (2): 21–47.
  9. Dream Editor By: Stephanie Coen, American Theatre, 1996 December; 13 (10): 26.
  10. Exile and Otherness: Examples from Three Continents By: Phyllis Zatlin, Hispanofila, 1993 January; 107: 33–41.
  11. Poverty and Magic in Each Day Dies with Sleep By: José Rivera, Studies in American Drama, 1945–present, 1992; 7 (1): 163–232.
  12. An Interview with José Rivera By: Lynn Jacobson, Studies in American Drama, 1945–present, 1991; 6 (1): 49–58.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Jose Rivera", Turner Classic Movies. Accessed August 8, 2022
  2. ^ McElroy, Steven (26 February 2006). "José Rivera". The New York Times.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Diction and Contradiction by Michael Feingold, Village Voice, July 4, 2006
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Book Rags
  5. ^ Jose Rivera's Che Guevara Play: "School of the Americas" by Delfin Vigil, January 20, 2008
  6. ^ Jose Rivera awards and nominations at, accessed 1 August 2009.
  7. ^ Diction and Contradiction by Michael Feingold, Village Voice, July 4, 2006
  8. ^ "Playwright José Rivera Finds "Another Word for Beauty"". 28 January 2016.
  9. ^ "The Untranslatable Secrets of Nikki Corona".

External links[edit]