Nuyorican prize-winning poet and children’s book author Willie Perdomo is Spanish Harlem’s El Barrio-born and a native to all things awe-inspiring. He has been published in New York Times Magazine and Bomb. The writer of Clementine!, Where a Nickel Costs a Dime, Postcards of El Barrio, The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon, and Smoking Lovely, he’s won a number of literary awards and notable mentions, and is recognized for his incredible creative contributions to the world of poetry.
Perdomo grew up just a few short blocks away from Langston Hughes’s home in East Harlem, which inspired his children’s book, Visiting Langston, which earned him the Coretta Scott King Honor. The book idea came to him when he was visiting his mother in Harlem, and witnessed what he perceived to be a father and daughter entering Langston’s brownstone. Greatly influenced by Hughes and Harlem, Perdomo credits both for helping to create his personal tone and writing style.
“Langston Hughes was such an influence on my writing,” said Perdomo, “that I knew eventually I would try writing for children as well. Our children need all the books they can get their hands on. The thought of a young boy or girl reading Visiting Langston and being inspired to write a poem really excites me.”
He attended schools in the Harlem area until he won a scholarship to a private Quaker school in lower Manhattan called Friends Seminary. It was there where he began to take himself seriously as a writer. And, by the time he entered high school, he’d already been published in The New York Public Library’s publication, New Youth Connections.
Beyond everything, Perdomo is praised for his candid observations and his understanding of life inside and outside of El Barrio. Also, his take on life as an Afro-Boricua or, as how he’s referred to himself, a “Nigg**-Rican.” In his poem “Nigg**-Rican Blues,” he makes astute observations about color, race, identity and self-identification. The interesting poem roused by the ever-tedious question, “What are you?,” meets a colorful and powerful statement:
Sp*c! Sp*c! No different than a Nigg**! Neglected, rejected, oppressed and depressed From banana boats to tenements Street gangs to regiments. . . Sp*c! Sp*c! I ain’t nooooo different than a Nigg**.
Perdomo was recently a Woolrich Fellow in Creative Writing at Columbia University, and he is co-founder/publisher of Cypher Books.