Founded circa 1973, The Nuyorican Poets Cafe began as a living room salon in the East Village apartment of writer and poet, Miguel Algarin. Algarin, a college professor at the center of this blossoming arts community, was dedicated to bringing new work into the public eye. By 1975 it became clear that there were many poets and too much energy for Algarin's living room. William Morrow Inc. had just published an anthology titled “Nuyorican Poetry”. Miguel Piñero's “Short Eyes” had just won two awards as best play of the 1974 season. Poetry, the vital sign of a new culture, needed to be heard live. So Algarin rented an Irish bar, the Sunshine Cafe on East 6th Street, which was christened The Nuyorican Poets Cafe. By 1980, the overflow of audiences led the Cafe to purchase an “in rem” building at 236 East 3rd Street to expand its activities and programs.
A non-profit organization, the Cafe has emerged as one of the country's most highly respected arts organizations and has become an acclaimed forum for innovative poetry, music, hip hop, video, visual arts, comedy and theatre.
The mission of the Cafe is to create a multi-cultural venue that both nurtures artists and exhibits a variety of artistic works. Without limitation, they are dedicated to providing a stage for the arts with access for the widest public.
The Cafe's purpose has always been to provide a stage for the artists traditionally under-represented in the mainstream media and culture; promoting their work while building an audience and providing an ongoing support system for them as they grow. The Nuyorican organization provides cultural programming to the whole of the East Village community. Their programming includes poetry and prose readings, theatrical and musical performances, and visual art exhibits. The weekly Poetry Slams are a hugely successful popularization of poetry conducted in mock epic contest judged by people selected at random from the audience. Their lesser known Theater Program has been awarded over 30 Audelco Awards and was honored with an OBIE Grant for excellence in theater. Theater events are held early evening from Thursday through Saturday with frequent Sunday matinees. The up and coming Latin Jazz Jam Session on Thursday nights fills the Cafe with its own special flavor and has been a weekly “Critics Choice” at New York Press for six consecutive years. Their Fifth Night Series has produced over 40 films from screenplay readings since its inception in January '94. Their Hip Hop events include an open mic and competitions for poets, freestylers and emcees, as well as collaborations for story tellers and jazz musicians – becoming a legendary hotbed for new talent. Finally, every month the comedy troupe, Nuyorican Rule, brings its humor on the urban, social, political and familial Latino experience to the Cafe.