Emanuel Xavier
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Emanuel Xavier

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Band Spoken Word

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Oct
20
Emanuel Xavier @ Marshall Fields Performance Hall

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Oct
18
Emanuel Xavier @ El Museo Del Barrio

New York, New York, USA

New York, New York, USA

Oct
12
Emanuel Xavier @ Princeton University

Princeton, New Jersey, USA

Princeton, New Jersey, USA

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Press


(CNN) -- Perez Hilton is a celebrity blogger who dishes out the latest Hollywood gossip, but there's something about his personal life you may not know.

Latino gays say they face a double dose of discrimination.

1 of 3 Hilton is a Latino pioneer. He is one of the first Latino public figures in the U.S. to be openly gay. While Latinos have broken ground on the U.S. Supreme Court, in Hollywood and in professional sports, gay Latinos in the nation's public arena remain largely invisible.

Hilton says deep-seated homophobia within the Latino community has forced many gay Latinos to go underground, but attitudes are shifting.

"At the beginning, when I came out to my mom, she reacted with a sigh and said, 'You're my son and I have to love you,' " Hilton says. "But now she says, 'You're the best son in the world, and we need to find you a man.' "

Some gay Latino leaders are starting to share Hilton's optimism. The Latino community has long had a reputation for being notoriously homophobic. But some surprising developments within the Latino world -- in the United States and abroad -- suggest that may be changing, gay scholars and activists say.

'Walls are starting to crumble'

"A lot of walls are starting to crumble," says Charlie Vazquez, a New York-based author whose fiction has appeared in books such as "Best Gay Love Stories: NYC."

"We're at a crossroads," he says. "A new generation of better-educated Latinos is coming of age."

El Diario La Prensa, one of the oldest and largest Spanish-language newspapers in the U.S., recently endorsed the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

Within the past three years, lawmakers in countries as diverse as Uruguay, Colombia and Mexico have passed laws granting rights and protections to gays and lesbians.

Christian Chavez, lead singer of the popular pop Mexican band RBD, recently announced that he was gay.

"He wasn't rejected by any of his band mates or fans," Hilton says of Chavez. "That's a huge step for gay visibility in the Latino media world."

And far away from the stage, even some of the most vulnerable gay Latinos -- ordinary students in public high schools -- are finding more support, one group says.

While many gay Latino students still face physical and verbal harassment from classmates and teachers, more are becoming bolder about affirming their sexual identity, a recent survey found.

A 2007 survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network discovered that at schools where a Gay Student Alliance club existed, 59 percent of gay Latino students participated in the club, says Elizabeth Diaz, a senior researcher at the network. The survey defined gay youths as those who were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The network also says that since 1999, at least 4,000 Gay Student Alliances have formed groups at public and private schools in the United States.

'Latino in America'
The Latino population is set to nearly triple by 2050. This October, Soledad O'Brien journeys into the homes and hearts of a group destined to change the U.S. Witness the evolution of a country as Latinos change America and America changes Latinos.
October 21 & 22, 9 p.m. ET

see full schedule »
"While harassment in schools for Latino gay students remained high, we also know that these students have more support than in past generations," Diaz says.

At least one Latina scholar is now even questioning a fundamental assumption about homophobia in the Latino community.

Lourdes Torres, president of Amigas Latinas, a lesbian and bisexual support group, says the notion that Latino people are more homophobic and its men more macho is not only false, but tinged with racism.

Men from all sorts of ethnic groups have long acted in a patriarchal manner, but only Latino men have the term "machismo" attached to their behavior, she says.

"People tend to think that somehow, we're more repressed and living in the Dark Ages," says Torres, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois.

"They forget that just as things are changing in the U.S., they're also changing in Latin America," she says.

The walls that still stand

Yet Torres and others also say that being gay and Latino presents special challenges.

Like other gay people of color, Latino gays face a double bind: discrimination from mainstream culture and from their own community, Torres says.

This double bind presents an obstacle to Latinos who consider coming out, Torres says. Their challenge: risking rejection from their family when they need their family as a refuge from racism, she says.

"The family is the unit that provides the support and the one place that people can feel free and protected," Torres says. "It becomes doubly difficult for people to come out."

Those who take that risk may pay a price.

Emanuel Xavier, a gay poet and spoken word artist, says he almost destroyed himself because he couldn't find acceptance within the Latino community.

The New York-based poet says he grew up knowing that his sexual identity infuriated other Latinos. He once saw kids pelt a gay Latino hairdresser with stones. He routinely heard Roman Catholic priests condemn homosexuals.

His own mother called him names when she discovered he was gay, says Xavier, editor of "Mariposas: A Modern Anthology of Queer Latino Poetry."

Xavier says he was so filled with self-loathing that he once sold drugs and engaged in risky sexual behavior.

"I became all those things society expected me to become," he says. "I thought that was the only thing I could be."

Xavier says he decided to ditch his reckless lifestyle and become a poet. He reconciled with his mother and took on a new mission. He wanted to show others that one could be Latino, gay and proud.

"Fortunately, I walked away unscathed," he says of his earlier days. "I thought that God had given me a second chance, and I felt like I had to do something with that."

Gay Latinos like Xavier who decide to become activists, though, may run into an unexpected problem. How do you organize a community that is so fragmented?

People often talk about the Latino community in the U.S. as if it is one community. Yet Latino leaders often point out that there is not one Latino community in the U.S., but many.

A U.S. citizen from Guatemala, for example, may not appreciate being called a Mexican. Politics, food, history -- they all differ among various Latino groups in the U.S.

Andres Duque, a gay Latino activist and journalist, says those differences can make it difficult to mobilize support for Latino gay issues.

"It's difficult to get united around a single issue," says Duque, whose blogging name is "Blabbeando."

"When people are trying to form a Latino voice, it's difficult because you have different cultures with different visions and goals," Duque says.

For now, Hilton, the Hollywood blogger, may seem like a coalition of one -- a Latino public figure who is proud of being gay. But he says he doesn't feel isolated.

"I really don't think I'm alone," he says. "I don't feel alone."

He says that gay Latinos who decide to stop living undercover will become more commonplace in the future.

"It's tough -- I'm not saying it's not there," Hilton says of homophobia in the Latino community. "But as time goes on, it will change."
- CNN


One night in 1996, a 25-year-old ex-hustler cum drug dealer named Emanuel Xavier walked into the Nuyorican Poets Café and had an epiphany.

“Poetry was something that never appealed to me,” he said, “but when I saw these incredible artists doing spoken word poetry, and I heard how the message was universal, that I could relate to it, I realized it was something I wanted to do.”

Since then, the just-turned-39-year-old has made a name for himself by doing just that, emerging as one of the most influential players in the spoken word genre and neo-Nuyorican poetry movement, publishing his own poetry collections as well as editing anthologies of others, and curating events for venues such as the Nuyorican Poets Café, where he was first inspired.

Gay City News had last spoken with Xavier in 2005, shortly after more than a dozen teenage thugs attacked him in his Bushwick neighborhood, severely compromising his hearing. An MRI later revealed a tumor that was removed, leaving him completely deaf in his right ear.

When asked, in a recent interview, to revisit the experience, Xavier explained, “I think it’s really difficult to see myself as a victim. I prefer being viewed as a survivor.” He added, “When you called me, I had to take a moment to reflect on the things that I’ve accomplished since then. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it had things turned out differently. I realize this moment is that much sweeter because I’m still here and that I’m able to appreciate that.”

His gratitude is genuine. The poet exudes a sweetness not born of naïveté but the reclaiming of hard-earned innocence. To describe him merely as a survivor seems an understatement. Anyone looking at his accomplishments over the years would conclude that he’s been very successful; yet it’s taken him some time to assimilate that truth.

“It wasn’t until recently that I could accept myself as a poet, an artist,” he confided. “It took me a long time to do that. Too many people try to take that away from you. But it’s nice to be at a point where I can honestly look at myself in the mirror and say, yeah, I’m living my dream. I’m doing what I want to do.”

Humble words coming from a man whose numerous artistic contributions are, like the title track of his latest CD, “Legendary.” But for a poor, queer Latino from Brooklyn, whose early life would appear to make him an unlikely candidate for achieving much of anything, his sentiments seem entirely reasonable.

Xavier’s upbringing was hardly a breeding ground for personal success. His Puerto Rican father abandoned him when his Ecuadorian mother became pregnant, a family member sexually assaulted him at the age of three, and his religious mother threw him out of the house when he came out to her at the age of 16.

While she looked for Xavier the next day, he realized that he couldn’t live there anymore. “I was angry,” he said. “I was like, no, I’m not going back.”

“I knew she’d try to do everything in her power to change me or influence me to be otherwise, and I think a lot of it was also that I had to be on my own. I was just at that point in my life when I had to confront my sexuality, and I couldn’t do it with her hovering over me.”

His efforts to explore his sexuality led him to the streets and the West Side Highway. “I became a pier queen,” he said, “turning tricks and hanging out with club kids.” He became, he said, exactly what society expected of him. And he didn’t stop there in perpetuating his stereotypical legacy. After his hustling gig, he began selling drugs in Manhattan clubs, like Roxy NYC and Sound Factory. But when he heard about the 1996 murder of Angel Melendez, a fellow drug dealer and friend, it forced him to reassess his life.

“It really affected me because here was somebody like me. Also, the person I was working for transitioned me from the bigger clubs, where I felt safer, to working in the smaller gay bars. Giuliani was the mayor, and a lot of raids were going on. But what ultimately motivated me to make a change was the fact that I thought I might be HIV-positive, because a lot of people around me were testing positive. I was really scared. I had to take a look at myself and see where my life was going.”

At this point, Xavier felt the longing for a higher purpose.

“I knew I had to…I knew I wanted… I had an interesting story that I had to share with the world, and I wanted to leave something behind.”

Impressed by what he’d seen at the Nuyorican Café, he began to attend open mikes and spoken poetry events around the city, and soon became more invested in his day job working at A Different Light Bookstore.

“I was just some little punk-ass pier queen working checkout at the front desk, and I wasn’t familiar with anything that I was selling until I started working there and exploring poetry. It was a great place to be, and it was a great time in my life, meeting authors that would come in and be very friendly.”

A year later, in the fall of 1997, Xavier self-published his first poetry collection, “Pier Queen,” establishing a name for himself in New York’s underground art scene. His first official published collection of poetry, “Americano,” released in 2002, furthered his prominence within the literary community of color.

In 2005, Xavier edited an anthology called “Bullets & Butterflies: queer spoken word poetry,” which featured work by 13 artists, including his own. He edited another collection in 2008, “Mariposas: A Modern Anthology of Queer Latino Poetry,” the first book presenting work by openly queer poets in the Latino community. And last year, a revised tenth anniversary release of his semi-autographical novel, “Christ Like,” earned him a Lambda Literary Award nomination. Not too shabby for a bad boy from Bushwick.

These days, Xavier is more prolific than ever. Last month, the title track of “Legendary — the Spoken Words of Emanuel Xavier” was remixed and produced into a complete club-friendly dance video. In addition, his latest poetry collection, “If Jesus Were Gay & other poems,” was released on April 1 by Rebel Satori Press.

“There are poems in it that I wrote many years ago, and some that I’ve written in the last few months. It was interesting for me to have them all in one collection about love and relationships.”

Like the universality of the poetry that first moved him, Xavier’s is straightforward, visceral, and accessible. Whether he’s admonishing the funeral-protesting Fred Phelps in “Children of Magdalene” (“our angels have wings too”) or prophetically exploring the legitimacy of national identity in “Americano” (“I am as American as lemon merengue pie”), his poems address contemporary issues of race, religion, and politics with a voice that speaks for all those who have ever felt marginalized.

Late last year, Xavier’s outspokenness gained him some notoriety when he defended the proposed title for a series of spoken word poetry events to be held at El Museo del Barrio — “Spic Up! Speak Out!”

“I got a lot of flak for it. I didn’t come up with the title, but I understood the concept behind it. I mean, we took the word queer and made it ours. When people started using it in an empowering way, some people were upset and challenged it” in the same way, he believes, that “spic” was being contested.

“Because I’m an artist, I was caught in the crossfire. I defended it, and I even used it in one of my poems. At the time, it definitely divided a community. But it also welcomed me as part of the family and brought me closer to the Latino community. The fact that I happened to be gay didn’t really matter anymore, and I think it put me in a unique place.”

Once the controversial dust had settled, the name was changed to “Speak Up! Speak Out!” and the museum hired Xavier exclusively to curate the monthly spoken word program for Fall 2010 and Spring 2011.

On June 20, as a testament to Xavier’s continuing influence in the LGBT Latino/a community, El Museo del Barrio will be presenting its first-ever New York City Gay Pride celebration event, “The Legendary Project,” a modern dance performance based on Xavier’s spoken word/music collaborations with producer El David and choreographed by friend Ferdinand De Jesus a.k.a. Freddie Xtravaganza.

Said the enthusiastic Xavier, “Freddie relates to me as an artist because we both came from the whole pier scene, the house, voguing, ball scene, and we’ve both gone on to do some incredibly creative things. I’m really excited to see his vision, to see these words being brought to life through dance. It’s beautiful.”

Xavier is keenly aware of an internal shift in his focus since the publication of his first poetry collection. “I think at the beginning it was about me, about sharing my story. But as it evolved, it became more about the larger picture, hoping to inspire others not to follow that path, that it wasn’t the only way to go if you were gay, a person of color, and thrown out because you were gay. That it wasn’t the only option.”
- Gay City News


The poet Emanuel Xavier is standing at center stage in El Museo del Barrio’s grand theater, looking both jaunty and angelic in a white ivy cap. He’s in rehearsal for The Legendary Project, a Gay Pride showcase of his poetry as recorded over music on his Legendary CD, translated into movement by choreographer Ferdinand de Jesus and a troupe of young dancers. Though Xavier was a bit nervous about giving his old nightclub pal Freddie free reign to interpret his words, he says he was thrilled the first time he saw the results onstage.

“When I first attended rehearsal, I was a bit taken aback because, as the author, you have your own relationship to the words,” recalls Xavier, 39, who appears in scenes throughout the dance performance to lip-synch along with his spoken-word recordings. “But they got it. They knew where I was coming from. It was very moving.”

Where Xavier comes from is a Puerto Rican–Ecuadorian background and a New York childhood and young adulthood punctuated by difficulties—sexually abused by an older cousin when he was just three, turned into the streets by his unaccepting mother after coming out at age 16, working as a hustler and drug dealer in the whacked-out Party Monster club scene and finding solace in the city’s house ball community. He eventually finished school and reconciled with his family, and then really found his voice through poetry, writing about his life experiences and sharing them, to great appreciation, in the spoken-word community of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. His published collections include Pier Queen and the recent If Jesus Were Gay; he also wrote a novel, Christ Like, and has edited and contributed to anthologies. Plus, he’s a constant figure on the ueer-performance scene.

“At first I turned to poetry as a means of escape and of expressing my pain and anger,” he says, explaining what drives him. “But now it’s more about giving voice to other people who maybe don’t have that opportunity. Freddie and I found each other, and are hoping we can inspire others in return.”

De Jesus, a Brooklyn native now based in Florida, where he is the associate artistic director of the Florida Dance Theater, recalls reconnecting with Xavier online and wanting to work on a project together upon hearing Legendary. “As soon as I listened to it, I was moved completely,” De Jesus says. “I was inspired to express myself in a way I’m normally not able to—about being Latino and about being gay. People are not really talking about that at the ballet.”

He shared his vision with Xavier, who quickly found a home for it at El Museo, where he curates a spoken-word series, and where program director Gonzalo Casales was eager to include a Gay Pride event in the museum’s lineup for the first time.

“It’s important for the Latino community to embrace gay culture,” Xavier says. “There is a lot of machismo and homophobia and ignorance, and I think it’s awesome that El Museo is hosting this event.”

De Jesus, drawing inspiration in part from In the Heights, began creating dance pieces for each of the poems, tying them together with a loose romantic plot and reaching out to the many young LGBT dancers he has gotten to know over the years through his work as an instructor at the Earl Mosley Institute of the Arts in Connecticut. As an openly gay staff member there, he found queer students often sought him out for advice and support; some of them have found their way into the show.

“Some came specifically because of the subject matter,” he says, adding that he can personally relate to the young artists on many levels. “They are dancers who are smart and trying to get out of the ghetto, and who are a little broken.”

De Jesus decided early on to put Xavier onstage for some of the pieces. “Somehow I wanted to get him in the picture, so people could have a way to connect with his voice,” he explains. “He was a little stressed out about it at first, but we just sort of eased him in.”

One of the most difficult parts of the choreography for Xavier to deal with occurs when he’s onstage, reciting “The Death of Art” (I am not a poet./I only do poetry events if I know there will be cute guys there,/and I always carry business cards…). Suddenly, near the end of the poem, Xavier falls to the ground as dancers encircle him, pantomiming a beatdown. It’s an artistic reenactment of a well-publicized 2005 incident in which a random group of a dozen teens attacked him on the streets of Bushwick, where he grew up, leaving him with facial nerve damage and emotional scars.

“I don’t like to see myself as a victim. I like to see myself as a survivor,” the poet says, explaining his resistance to the scene. “But it makes sense. It’s an important piece of the narrative. And it’s about inspiring others.”



- TIME OUT NEW YORK


Jerome Murphy


Emanuel Xavier has dedicated his latest book to his mother, who once kicked him out of the house. It’s entitled If Jesus Were Gay & other poems, (Rebel Satori Press). The titular piece, a riotous litany of speculations on how the alternate sexuality of the savior would affect America’s practicing Christians, elicits knowing laughter from audiences.

Xavier’s trademark fusion of book smarts and street smarts—in collections like Pier Queen, Americano and Mariposas—the latter an anthology that held the distinction of being the first to collect the work of queer Latino poets—has garnered him what he jokingly refers to as a cult following over the past decade. It has also invited plenty of controversy. Before a reading at a Florida high school (Jeb Bush territory), school officials warned Xavier that he would be arrested if he chose to read particular poems. Just to be sure, there were police officers on hand, ready and waiting. It didn’t matter in the end because, as Xavier told me, “the audience was there with me. They knew the poems anyway. And they knew what was being left out.”

High school students hanging on a poet’s every word? What accounts for this? If you’re like most of us, you think of poetry as Wordsworth and dry lessons in iambic pentameter. Then again, most of the poets taught in schools don’t appear on Russell Simmons’s Def Poetry Jam or speak about Bushwick with “a piranha’s mouth, designed for survival.” Maybe it’s also because, as Xavier puts it, “when performing spoken word you need understand the art of having a presence.” This understanding of presence has led to several acting roles, including a lead role in Logo network’s The Ski Trip in 2005.

Growing up in Bushwick made a determined survivor out of Xavier, who turned to drugs and hustling at the West Side Highway piers after a childhood of sexual abuse and neglect. There he met Willi Ninja of ball culture fame (Paris Is Burning), who encouraged the creative spark that blossomed when Xavier visited the Nuyorican Poets Café and found performers who enabled his own voice.

Despite the crosses he’s borne, Xavier continues to draw inspiration from controversial matters. One of his earlier works, “Americano,” has become freshly relevant in light of the debate over immigration and laws in Arizona. And it’s his drive to speak for those without the megaphones that has kept his roots in Bushwick, where he suffered a cruel physical attack in 2005. As he writes in “Waiting for God”: “The fingers on the trigger are not always white/Some belong to hands we hold in church during prayer.”

Poetry has a relatively small but fervent audience, and the work of Emanuel Xavier might just convert the nonbelievers. N

Emanuel Xavier recommends Nuyorican Café and Bowery Poetry Club as venues for excellent poetic performances, and will be hosting a reading series at El Museo del Barrio the third Saturday of every month beginning in September. “Legendary,” a music compilation featuring his work, is available on iTunes. Visit EmanuelXavier.com for more info.

- NEXT Magazine


Chip Alfred

Emanuel Xavier is a poet who found his voice—literally. After writing poetry for years, he took his work to the stages of New York’s clubs and cafés, sharing his poetry and his life out loud.

Xavier is one of the most significant openly gay Latino voices in the spoken word poetry movement. “Being Latino and gay gives me much to write about. Anything that oppresses us as artists is always great fodder for art,” he says. Xavier holds nothing back when he performs—living in fear of AIDS, falling in love, questioning the existence of God, describing his sexual encounters. No topic is off limits.

He was born and raised in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn, the son of an Ecuadorian mother and Puerto Rican father, who abandoned the family before Xavier was born. Xavier never met his dad and never even saw a photo of him. “I always felt there was a part of me missing—a part of me that I couldn’t identify. I often want to know what the rest of my family was like or if they even knew that I exist. That really affected all of my life.”

In “Awkward,” he explains:

I enjoy sex with insignificant strange men
whenever I am lonely
I’ve had many lovers
Sometimes I fall asleep in their arms with great ease
This is because I am searching for my father
He disappeared when my mother refused
To have an abortion

When Xavier was just three years-old, he was molested by an older male cousin. “I repressed that throughout my childhood. I didn’t really know what was going on,” he says. Years later, Xavier would realize what had happened and how it impaired his ability to love and trust. “I don’t think I had a real grasp on affection; the only way I understood affection was sexually.”

Around the time he turned seven, Xavier’s mother married; but her husband couldn’t take the place of the father he never knew. “My stepfather was abusive to my mom,” Xavier recalls. “He had his own children that he would go to see every night. We were basically like ‘the other family.’ I was constantly reminded he was not my father.”

As a teenager, Xavier told his mother he was gay. “She completely freaked out,” he says. Xavier then did something he describes as “very cliché and stupid.” He locked himself in the bathroom and attempted suicide by taking a whole bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol. “I think I was just reaching out for attention. I didn’t really have any intention of killing myself.”

She made it clear that Xavier was no longer welcome to live with her after he came out. At sixteen, then a homeless gay teen on the streets of New York, he turned to sex and drugs for survival. Xavier became a hustler on the West Side Highway piers. “I was young. I was angry. I was sexual,” he admits. “I found a way to make money by indulging in sex.”

Next came the club scene, where Xavier got caught up with the wrong crowd in the wrong situation—dealing drugs at some of New York’s major nightclubs. “It seemed very glamorous at the time. I was selling drugs. I was making money. I was popular.”

Soon, Xavier acknowledged he had a drug problem that caused him to make bad decisions. “I was engaging in safe sex because AIDS was already prominent—I was aware of the dangers. But there were times when I would be completely fucked out of my mind and I wouldn’t be completely safe,” he says. “That was when I had the wake-up call. If I continued this life, I was either going to get AIDS or die.”

Xavier got a job at the gay bookstore A Different Light and found a place to stay with a cousin in Riverdale. “At the time I didn’t read any of the books I was selling,” he says. “When I actually picked up one of the books, I was completely inspired.”

A second epiphany came when a date took Xavier to the Nuyorican Poets Café, a haven for Puerto Rican spoken word artists living in New York. “I was blown away by what I saw up on stage. It was a way of expressing yourself very creatively and I had a lot to share,” Xavier says. “That was the moment I realized this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

Xavier eventually reconciled with his mom and moved back home. He says his mother and stepfather were tolerant, but never accepted his sexual orientation. Xavier finished high school and earned an associate’s degree in communications from St. John’s University.

In his mid-twenties, Xavier began seriously pursuing spoken word poetry as an art form. One of the challenges he faced in the literary world was earning the respect of his peers. He hadn’t studied poetry and didn’t have an advanced degree, like many of the poets and spoken word artists around him.

In his poetry and spoken word, Xavier was very open and honest about being gay. “That to me was what poetry was about—revealing yourself,” he says. At the time, he found himself alienated from the gay community because he was Latino, and shunned by the Latino community because he was gay. “There was still a lot of machismo and homophobia there. I felt like I didn’t really belong anywhere.”

In 1997, Xavier self-published his first book of poetry, Pier Queen.

His debut collection was well received, and his career as a spoken word artist was gaining momentum.

After hearing about Xavier’s sexual abuse at one of his spoken word performances, a woman came up to him and shared her story of being molested. “When you realize you’ve touched other people, you’ve inspired other people, that’s the moment you realize you have accomplished what you set out to do,” Xavier says. “At first, I was giving voice to my own experience. Then I realized I was giving voice to others who maybe didn’t have that opportunity to share their life experiences on a stage.”

Americano, Xavier’s second collection of poems and first official publication, was released in 2000. It helped establish him as a key figure in New York’s underground arts scene. “It was probably the happiest time in my life,” Xavier says.

In October, 2005 tragedy struck Xavier once more. Walking in his neighborhood, he was brutally attacked by at least fifteen young Latinos. “I remember yelling back at them,” he says. “‘I live in the neighborhood. What the fuck are you doing?’” A cab driver down the street saw the assault and came to Xavier’s rescue. The cabbie picked him up in the taxi and drove off—possibly saving Xavier’s life. The assailants were never caught. As a result of the beating and subsequent surgery, Xavier lost all hearing in his right ear.

“I felt really disappointed and angry because these are the kids I try to reach with what I do; these are the kids I want to inspire and motivate with my poetry.” It was a night Xavier will never forget. A large scar around his ear from the surgery serves as a constant reminder of that horrific incident. After the assault, Xavier closed himself off and was unable to write for some time.
In “Passage” he reflects on that fateful October night:

Had they known I was gay they would have killed me
None of my poems about peace and unity
would have kept me whole

In 2008, Xavier edited Mariposas: A Modern Anthology of Queer Latino Poetry, the first-ever collection of queer Latino poetry. Gay rights activist Andres Duque raves, “It’s just an amazing and moving collection of poems that truly represents who we are as queer Latinos at this crucial moment in time.” With this release, Xavier felt like he had arrived. “That’s when I realized I had made a name for myself and I do belong to the literary community,” he says. “I can finally look in the mirror and call myself an artist—a poet.”

In 2010, If Jesus Were Gay & Other Poems was published and received critical acclaim. Fellow author Jaime Manrique said, “Once in a generation, a new voice emerges that makes us see the world in a dazzling new light. Emanuel Xavier is that kind of writer.”

In this collection, the poet explores how the AIDS epidemic has affected him. “I’ve lost a lot of people close to me to AIDS,” Xavier says. In therapy, he tried to overcome survivor’s guilt and find answers to the questions that were troubling him. “Why am I still here? Why am I still alive when everyone around me has died or is living with HIV?”

In “Walking with Angels,”
he writes:

AIDS…
Knows the fearless meaning
of a friends genuine kiss or hug
converts non-believers to religion…

AIDS…
Knows the prosperous could be doing more
with their wealth
and that everyone still thinks it’s a deserving fate—
for gays, drug addicts, prostitutes,
and the unfortunate children of such
born into a merciless world
of posh handbags and designer jewelry

“Until you know someone in your life who is living with HIV or has died of AIDS, it’s hard to grasp that it affects all of us, that it could potentially reach all of us no matter where you live, no matter who you are, no matter who you sleep with,” Xavier says.
Xavier donates his time and talent to benefit a number of charities, focusing on gay homeless youth and youth affected by AIDS. He has taught workshops and worked with queer youth and AIDS organizations, including New York’s Youth Enrichment Services, the New Neutral Zone, New York Peer AIDS Education Coalition, Sylvia’s Place, and the Latino Commission on AIDS.

“For somebody to be in their teens in 2010 and living with HIV is really tragic because that should not be happening,” Xavier says. “I’ve been in that place—when you’re angry you gamble with your life. It’s a very difficult place to be.”

In October, Equality Forum will honor Emanuel Xavier as one of its GLBT History Month 2010 Icons. Each day in October, a different Icon is recognized at www.glbtHistoryMonth.com with a video, biography, bibliography, downloadable images and other resources. Icons are selected for being national heroes, outstanding in their chosen field, or activists for gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender civil rights.

Xavier has been featured on HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry and In the Life on PBS. He costarred in his first acting role in the independent feature film, The Ski Trip, the first gay black and Latino movie to air on cable television. He also appeared in The Cult of Sincerity, which aired on PBS.

This year, one of Xavier’s dreams came true with the release of Legendary: The Spoken Word Poetry of Emanuel Xavier, the first CD of his work, a house mix album with an accompanying music video. Xavier is currently working on editing a poetry collection and curating a series for Museo Del Barrio in New York. A dance performance using tracks from his Legendary CD was staged at New York’s Gay Pride celebration.

Xavier is pleased to see his work presented in various media, but it’s the fundamentals of his craft he values the most. “Spoken word poetry is always going to be my passion, wherever life takes me, because that’s what saved me from myself.”

In “Just Like Jesus,” Xavier writes:

Instead of miracles
I want to document my own history…

Just Like Jesus,
I want to hear the voice of my father

Just Like Jesus,
I simply want to live before I die

For more information about Emanuel Xavier or to purchase his books, visit www.emanuelxavier.com.

Chip Alfred is a nationally-published freelance journalist and writing instructor based in Philadelphia.

- A&U magazine


"Emanuel's poetic tones inform the listener of the struggles one takes when attempting to create beauty out of decades of decay. It is obvious he has studied past voices and thus has been able to craft a unique sense of phrasing which is a synthesis of masterful wordplay and a deep sense of musicality."

- BRING IN DA NOISE, BRING IN DA FUNK


" Poet Emanuel Xavier is one of the most significant voices to emerge from the neo-Nuyorican spoken word movement. He captivates audiences with a fresh and poignant brand of art that celebrates sexuality, Latino heritage and the often-brutal streets."

- Composer's Collaborative Inc.


"I can seriously only tolerate about half an hour of spoken word before I start tuning out and thinking about my grocery list or what my cats are up to," writes Emanuel Xavier in "The Death of Art," one of the poems the spoken-word writer/performer plans to read at Giovanni's Room this Saturday. When Xavier reads — and really, he needs to be seen and heard — a half an hour is probably not enough. His life story, which influences, inspires and infuses his work, could make a gritty little movie. As his poem "The L" describes, he was sexually abused by a cousin, thrown out at 16 for being gay, worked as a hustler and drug dealer, was attacked on the streets in Brooklyn, and was diagnosed with acoustic neuroma. Yet Xavier published, not perished, and later wowed Russell Simmons' Presents Def Poetry audiences. Xavier's refrain in "The Death of Art" is "I am not a poet." Don't believe it. He's a master slam man.
- Philadelphia City Paper


GODS IN THESE GHETTOS is both a political commentary on America and a personal tale of sexuality and self-love. It is clear through Xavier's dexterity and theatricality that he is no stranger to poetry slams . . . - New York Press


The product of years of experience, the poems in Americano were influenced by the horrors of 9-11-2001 as well as by the singular experiences of being half-Ecuadorian, half-Nuyorican; a victim of sexual abuse; a former hustler and drug-dealer; and 100% a poet. The 35 poems that fill the pages of Americano deal with topics that we are “not supposed” to talk about: religion and politics; violence and race and sex - simply the stuff that great poems are made of.
- The Weekly News


Xavier brings us wide-eyed into his complex life, full of childhood abuse and anger, too many nameless lovers, contemplations on the Latino/gay/American dream, and the pitfalls of ambition and desire . . . - Clean Sheets


Emanuel Xavier possesses a strong and original voice . . . Each poem, a force unto itself, grabs the reader with its pointed intensity and demands both undivided attention and unambiguous respect. The poet, though thoughtful and self-reflective at times, is absolutely unregretting and unapologetic throughout. - Ashe Journal


. . . Xavier demonstrates the literary splendor and heroic telling of Piri Thomas and Junot Diaz . . . - Lambda Book Report


Once in a generation, a new voice emerges that makes us see the world in a dazzling new light. Emanuel Xavier is that kind of writer . . . exciting . . . vibrant . . . unique . . . a visionary bard - Jaime Manrique


Nestled in the folds of the red, white and blue, he moves the audience with words about how complex and multi-dimensional American-ness is. In many ways, his call to redefine American-ness mirrors the spoken word poetry phenomenon, a call to redefine poetry. - Writer Magazine


Discography

PIER QUEEN (Pier Queen Productions, 1997)
AMERICANO (Suspect Thoughts Press, 2002)
BULLETS & BUTTERFLIES: queer spoken word poetry (Suspect Thoughts Press, 2005)
BEST GAY EROTICA 2008 (Cleis Press, 2008)
MARIPOSAS: An Anthology of Modern Gay Latino Poetry (Floricanto Press, 2008)
CHRISTLIKE (Rebel Satori Press, 2009)
IF JESUS WERE GAY & other poems (Rebel Satori Press, 2010)
ME NO HABLA WITH ACENTO (Rebel Satori Press, 2011)

Photos

Bio

Emanuel Xavier is an American poet, spoken word artist, author, editor, literary events curator, and actor born and raised in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn. He was proclaimed an LGBT Icon by The Equality Forum in 2010 and is one of the most significant voices to emerge from the neo-Nuyorican poetry movement using political, sexual and religious themes throughout his work. His background is Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian. Once a homeless teen, he does a lot of work on behalf of LGBT youth organizations.

He self-published his debut poetry collection, Pier Queen, in the fall of 1997 through his own independent publishing house, Pier Queen Productions. Signature poems such as "Bushwick Bohemia", "Deliverance", "Every Latino", "Nueva York" and "Tradiciones" helped him gain notoriety in New York City's underground arts scene.

In 1998, with the support of people like Willi Ninja and spoken word poetry icon Bob Holman, Emanuel founded the House of Xavier and created the annual Glam Slam competition. Held once a year, first at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and then at Bowery Poetry Club, the poetry slam competition featured four open categories such as Best Erotic Poem in Sexy Underwear or Lingerie. Winners of each category received a trophy and went on to compete for the Grand Prize title of Glam Slam Champion. The event aspired to bring together poetry slams and ball culture in a unique and vibrant contribution to the downtown arts scene. In 2008, after a decade of staging the annual House of Xavier's Glam Slam spoken word poetry competition in NYC, he passed the torch over to Basque/Spanish performance poet, Ernesto Sarezale, who introduced the event to a London audience at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in the UK.

The poetry collection Americano, his first official publication, was released by Suspect Thoughts Press in 2002 and helped establish Emanuel Xavier as a central figure in the people of color literary arts movement with signature poems such as "Children of Magdalene", "Nearly God" and the title poem.

In 2005, Suspect Thoughts Press published Bullets & Butterflies: queer spoken word poetry, a collection Emanuel Xavier edited. The anthology featured the work of thirteen openly queer spoken word artists and new work by the editor himself including: "Legendary", "Outside" and "A Simple Poem."

He has been featured on television on Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry on HBO, In The Life on PBS and hosted several editions of Out At The Center on Manhattan Neighborhood Network. He also appears in the Wolfgang Busch documentary How Do I Look. In 2005, he co-starred in his first acting role in the independent feature film, The Ski Trip. In 2008, he appeared in The Cult of Sincerity, which later aired on PBS.

In 2008, an invitation-only online literary journal sponsored by UNESCO included him as a contributor to an international project. He was also invited to select finalists for Best Gay Erotica 2008.

In the fall of 2008, Floricanto Press published Mariposas: A Modern Anthology of Queer Latino Poetry, a collection which he edited featuring the work of 17 fellow queer Latino poets. This would be the first book ever to gather the work of openly queer poets from the Latino community.

In 2009, his poem, "Urban Affection", was commissioned by a private collector of Walt Whitman memorabilia for the 190th birthday anniversary of Walt Whitman.

In the Spring of 2009, Rebel Satori Press published a revised tenth anniversary edition of his semi-autobiographical novel, Christ Like. The novel description is as follows: Mikey is a spirited but self-destructive survivor of sexual abuse, a gay Latino native New Yorker caught somewhere between Catholic guilt and club kid decadence looking to fit in as part of a family. Instead, Mikey delves into a demimonde of petty thieves, prostitutes, and pushers. Haunted by a father that Mikey has never met, a difficult childhood, recurring nightmares, the reality of death, and Christ, the story unfolds through the ‘80’s and ‘90’s following him on his journey through a fascinating world filled with Santeros, transsexuals and voguing queens.

Emanuel Xavier has received the Marsha A. Gomez Cultural Heritage Award, a New York City Council Citation and is a 2008 World Pride Award recipient. In 2009, he was named one of the "25 Most Influential GLBT Latinos" by Mi Apogeo. He performs regularly throughout the United States as a spoken word artist and has also featured internationally in cities such as Buenos Aires (Argentina), Guayaquil (Ecuador), and Ghent (Belgium).

"Legendary- The Spoken Word Poetry of Emanuel Xavier", a spoken word/music collaboration with producer, El David, was released in the Winter of 2009/2010 featuring the bonus track, "Legendary (The E-Mix)." "Legendary (The Re-Mixes)" was released Spring 2010 by Hades Music on Masterbeats featuring remixes by Michael Hades, Tim Letteer, Lorant Duzgun, and El David.

If Jesus Were Gay & other poems was p