La Sopa NYC Faculty Spotlight: Jani Rose
Co-Founder: La Sopa NYC: The School of Poetic Arts
Jani is a curator, activist, educator, and Nuyorican Poet born in Spanish Harlem and raised in the Bronx. A member of Capicu Culture, co-founder of La Sopa: The School of Poetic Arts, and a Pink Door and VONA alum, she is mother to four sons, sister to a tribe, mentor and friend to those who seek themselves in one another. She is the author of the chapbook Musings and Scribbles of a Nuyorican Geisha.
Her grandparents came to New York in 1953 and raised a family of six in East Harlem’s Wagner Projects, a stone’s throw from the Harlem River. Like many Boricua families, theirs was a legacy of seeking better lives stateside, while dealing with the trauma of war. Her abuelo was a Korean War veteran who carried his wounds inside and outside; her abuela, a factory worker who held the family together with both a steel exterior and tenderhearted loyalty to her own.
Suffering through her parents’ divorce and some near-death experiences by the age of three, Jani found solace in voracious reading: shampoo bottles, cereal boxes, and the books she would bury herself in on the walk to CS 102—from her home on Leland Avenue, in the Parkchester section of the Bronx. She had written her first poem by the age of seven and displayed great aptitudes for English and the performing arts—an aptitude which landed her in gifted and talented classes, Prep For Prep, and eventually the Trevor Day School on 88th and Central Park West.
Jani lived through several strange moments in time, not the least of which was watching hip-hop flourish from the stomping grounds that raised her into the Hamptons. A multiplicity of lived experiences influenced her early on: witnessing the affluence of the Upper West Side, surviving (and fighting for) the Bronx, spending summers in Puerto Rico, visiting Sing Sing prison, and feeling equally at home both in the hood and in the campo. In high school, she participated in Mount Sinai’s SPEEK and STAR Theatre, a peer educator theatre group that performed in community centers, schools, universities, and the Roundabout Theatre on Broadway. Through it all, her single mother pushed reading, writing and education as a means of escape. But two events pushed her in the direction of an artist’s life at the age of seventeen: the death of her father, which left her traumatized; and a writing workshop with Jaime Manrique, which was meant to save her. During that workshop, while her father was in his final days, Jani and some friends made their way to the Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe, where she recited her first poem on the open mic. She would return there on lone trips to the cafe, right through college, and into her first days attending FIT and landing a job in the fashion industry as an agent.
At nineteen, Jani’s life changed again: she became a mother. Over the next decade, she dedicated her life to God, her husband, and her four sons (including a set of twins), all the while writing poems and paying homage to her literary heroes, Sylvia Plath and Julia de Burgos. She rekindled her performance chops at the Capicu Cultural Showcase, going on to curate shows and becoming a presence on the Nuyorican circuit. Among the amazing people she counts as mentors are Wanda Raimundi Ortiz and Willie Perdomo, as well as Carmen Pietri-Diaz and Miguel Algarín, who first made the Nuyorican identity real for her.
Jani organized fundraisers at Camaradas el Barrio for Haiti, GEMS, and the first Poetry in Pink breast cancer fundraiser with Angelique Imani Rodriguez. She partnered with DJ Ron Zilla to create Beats, Eats & Words at Camaradas where she hosted and performed with poets like La Bruja, Vanessa Hidary, and Patty Dukes. She would eventually find her way to the Acentos Writers’ Workshops, where communities of writers came together every Sunday under some of the most talented facilitators in the country. Poets who would go on to win Pulitzers, NYFA and NEA fellowships, who would go on to teach around the world, came to the Acentos classroom first. Jani absorbed their lessons and forged a number of key partnerships. It was there that she began to consider her own craft and share out what she’d learned over a lifetime of practical experience and voracious writing. As a valued member of the team, she organized the poets, liased with the faciliators, made the workshop hum, and took her turn at the head of the class teaching.
Partnering with El Centro at Hunter College, Jani founded a coalition of New York poetry communities called Sangre Viva, which led to a highly successful collaboration with Capicu’s Juan “Papo” Santiago. In 2010, they led a panel on intergenerational Nuyorican poetics at Centro with Willie Perdomo, Sandra Maria Esteves, and Rich Villar. The event was archived for Centro and drew Latino audiences from around the city to discuss issues of identity, the legacy of the Nuyorican poetry movement, terminal degrees in writing, and community education.
Shortly thereafter, Jani and Papo saw an opportunity to bring the dream of community-centered education to fruition. The end of the Acentos Writers Workshops in 2012 left a need for writing workshops that were low-cost to the community. One pivotal night, she expressed her and the community’s desire to begin the workshops again with Capicu. Papo expressed his long-time desire to open a school for artists, poets, and performers. With Jani pursuing her education at Boricua College, serving the community there as an administrator and instructor, the space presented itself. The result was La Sopa, the School of Poetic Arts, founded in 2014 by Jani and Papo as a space for artists to hone their craft in the Nuyorican tradition and develop as arts professionals. The first classes were held at Boricua; Sopa will be returning there in March of 2017.
From a high school theater experience singing and creating around urban identity, through the birth and growth of hip-hop, to a life filled with vivid memories of abuelos and love and familia between the Bronx and Spanish Harlem and Puerto Rico, Jani lives and breathes the Nuyorican experience. Today, she is an administrator at a NYC public high school where she provides guidance and organizational development for families in the South Bronx. Her passion for progress in her community has also led to her taking on a role as Senior Program Assistant for Women Worldwide Initiative’s girls’ mentorship program in Brownsville, Brooklyn; as well the South Bronx’s Young Women Rock! The work inspires the words, and though she toils for the people, she is a poet through and through, sharing her poems and philosophies as a means to inspire progress. Her poetry speaks to the sacred inside the profane, to finding beauty despite the myriad traumas inflicted on individuals and nations alike. It was her mother who first called her a poet as a child. She’s been living and thriving, even through the rough times, as an indispensable poet, mom, friend, and activist ever since.
JOIN US for the next cycle of La Sopa NYC: the School of Poetic Arts:
Saturdays, March 18th to April 29th from 10 am to 2 pm at Boricua College in Brooklyn.
Info and application here: http://www.sofritoforyoursoul.com/lasopanyc32017/