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An extraordinary public intellectual of the Puerto Rican diaspora, Pura Belpré was born in Cidra, Puerto Rico in 1899 and died in New York City in 1982 after a prolific career as a children’s author, librarian, advocate, and puppeteer. Among other firsts, Belpré wrote the first mainstream Latino storybook in U.S. publishing history: Perez and Martina (House of Warne, 1932). The American Library Association has named a major children’s literature (now including Young Adult fiction) medal in her honor. In many ways, Belpré is the Zora Neale Hurston of Afro-Caribbean American literary history—with a flamboyant, polyglot twist.

This essay discusses Belpré’s work in the children’s rooms of the New York Public Library system, including how and why she eventually created a mobile puppet theater. In her essay “Bilingual Storytelling” – which was recently republished in a recovery project based on her archival papers – Belpré offers some information about her introduction to puppetry at the 115th Street branch of the NYPL, and her study of puppetry at Columbia University. She mentions that she started her first puppet theater in the 1930s at the Public Library’s Aguilar branch in an effort to recruit boys to participate in the children’s reading room activities. Belpré’s obvious talent and success as a puppeteer merits more research, and this presentation offers some paths of investigation.

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puppetry, performing objects, African American culture


African American Studies | African Languages and Societies | Arts and Humanities | Other Theatre and Performance Studies | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Theatre and Performance Studies

Pura Belpré’s Puppetry at the NYPL Children’s Rooms: 1921-1982