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Rivera, Oswald 1944-

Rivera, Oswald 1944-

PERSONAL:

Born January 15, 1944, in Ponce, Puerto Rico; son of Osvaldo and Francesca Rivera. Ethnicity: "Hispanic/Latino." Education: City College of the City University of New York, B.A., 1967. Hobbies and other interests: Kung-fu (sixth degree instructor, master level).

ADDRESSES:

E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

New York State Employment Service, Albany, employment interviewer, 1971-1987; Jay Heino Associates, Lynbrook, NY, executive recruiter, 1987-88; Harvard Management Group, executive recruiter, 1988; New York Police Department, New York, NY, staff analyst, beginning 1989. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, beginning 1969; received Purple Heart.

MEMBER:

Latin American Writers Association.

WRITINGS:

Fire and Rain (novel), Four Walls Eight Windows (New York, NY), 1990.

Puerto Rican Cuisine in America: Nuyorican and Bodega Recipes, illustrated by Carlos Frias, Four Walls Eight Windows (New York, NY), 1993.

The Proud and the Immortal (novel), Polar Bear and Co. (Solon, ME), 2003.

The Pharaoh's Feast: From Pit-Boiled Roots to Pickled Herring: Cooking through the Ages with 100 Simple Recipes, Four Walls Eight Windows (New York, NY), 2003, published as Feasting with the Ancestors: Cooking through the Ages with 110 Simple Recipes, Sutton (Thrupp, Gloucestershire, England), 2004.

Contributor to food and martial arts encyclopedias.

SIDELIGHTS:

Oswald Rivera's first novel, Fire and Rain, was inspired by an incident that took place during the Vietnam war. Having served in the United States Marine Corps, Rivera based the novel on the 1968 inmate riot that erupted in a Marine Corps prison located in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang. Although Rivera did not personally witness the riot, he was in Da Nang at the time, in the midst of his tour, and the incident left an indelible mark on him. To squelch the riot, Marine units were forced to kill many of the participating rioters, most of whom were African American or Latino. Of the forty inmates who were killed, all were minorities. Every white prisoner within the facility survived.

Several years later, while working for the New York City Police Department, Rivera began to fill up much of his spare time with his writing activities. He completed and published Fire and Rain in 1990. Most critics found the book to be a refreshing look at the oft-scrutinized war. Sharon Dirlam, writing in the Los Angeles Times, felt that Rivera had "graphically, visually and with utmost cynicism" exposed the travesty of the incident. Calling Rivera a "careful craftsman," a contributor to Kirkus Reviews called the book "a small but significant square to the literary mosaic concerning our national trauma" caused by our involvement in Vietnam.

Rivera told CA: "My second novel, The Proud and the Immortal, takes the reader into the world of a homeless community living beneath New York City in abandoned train tunnels. The main characters are real people with whom I became close. It is a story that depicts the plight of the homeless in America; their makeshift families and homegrown communities; how they are misunderstood by society at large and how they misconstrue their own lives; and how much they are the same as we are. It is a tale of compassion and humor, and it offers insights into a problem that seemingly will not go away. I want to evoke our collective conscience as we look deeply into the experiences of individuals struggling against mistreatment, deprivation, dispossession, and a relentless denial of the physical and psychological necessities required for getting beyond the tunnels and the streets. History judges a society by the level of humanity it exhibits. This book questions how far we have come."

Rivera considers his Puerto Rican heritage very important. This is a passion that is shared by most of his family, who, like other Puerto Ricans who were either born or raised in New York City, are sometimes called Nuyoricans. Rivera was born in the city of Ponce in Puerto Rico in 1944 but moved to New York City with his family. Like other immigrants, the Nuyoricans blended certain elements of their new home into the culture they brought with them from Puerto Rico. The result is an interesting amalgamation. In 1993, Rivera honored this heritage by publishing the book Puerto Rican Cuisine in America: Nuyorican and Bodega Recipes, a collection of recipes taken from his large extended family. Illustrated by fellow Latino Carlos Frias, the cookbook includes many amiable introductions, in which Rivera shares family anecdotes and Puerto Rican history. Rivera told CA: "As a student of history, I combined historical analysis and love of cuisine in my second cookbook, The Pharaoh's Feast: From Pit-Boiled Roots to Pickled Herring: Cooking through the Ages with 100 Simple Recipes. This book describes the circumstances and characters responsible for the evolution of cooking as we know it. I offer curious cooks the opportunity to recreate food highlights throughout history with more than 100 simple recipes, from a biblical mass of potage to an eight-course bash from first-millennium India, to contemporary classics."

Rivera later told CA: "I became interested in writing simply because I had a story to tell. The usual tale: I had just come back from Vietnam and writing my first novel was a catharsis for me. And it went on from there. I fancy myself a working class, social[ly] conscious writer. I believe in the precept set forth by Somerset Maugham that a writer should be a piece of grit in the political machinery, whatever that political machinery may be, be it capitalist, communist, fascist, socialist, or other. So I'm particularly influenced by those writers who stress social commentary and make us look at ourselves—John Steinbeck, Alberto Moravia, Flannery O'Conner, Nelson Algren, Alice Walker, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn….

"Writing has led me into other fields. For instance, cooking and writing cookbooks, which I love and find life affirming, and the martial arts, which, like cooking, take focus and concentration.

"Writing has taught me is that there's the process of writing and the business of writing. The process of writing, for me, is easy; the business of writing, i.e. getting published, is far more difficult, as most writers will attest. But we all keep plugging away, in the hope that we have something worthwhile to say and that in some small way, it will be a positive influence on our culture."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1990, review of Fire and Rain, pp. 1277-1278.

Library Journal, October 1, 1990, Edwin B. Burgess, review of Fire and Rain, p. 118; November 15, 1993, Judith C. Sutton, review of Puerto Rican Cuisine in America: Nuyorican and Bodega Recipes, p. 95.

Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1990, Sharon Dirlam, review of Fire and Rain, p. 6.

Midcoast Book Review, May, 2004, John Spencer, review of The Proud and the Immortal.

Morning Sentinel (Maine), April, 2004, Darla L. Pickett, review of The Proud and the Immortal.

Publishers Weekly, September 7, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Fire and Rain, p. 76.

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