Pura Belpré reading to children at the New York Public Library. (Photo credit - Centro Archives)This year as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, the New York Public Library is celebrating its premier Latina Librarian, Pura Belpré. An exhibit at the Bronx Library Center highlights the professional life of Pura Belpré—Children's Librarian, Writer, Storyteller and Puppeteer. The exhibit, sponsored by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, was curated by Alberto Hernández-Banuchi, Centro Chief Librarian and Archivist. It will be on view on the Concourse Level through October 15.
Pura Belpré (1899-1982), was born in Puerto Rico. She came to New York in 1920 and joined the New York Public Library in 1921, as a Hispanic Assistant at the 135th Street Branch (renamed the Countee Cullen Branch in 1951). With a passion to reach out to the growing Puerto Rican community in Upper Manhattan, she introduced bilingual storytime where she retold stories from her own childhood in Puerto Rico. This served as a familiar medium to attract new families settling into their communities, into the library.
She introduced puppets, which she created herself, to illustrate her stories. She continued her career at the New York Public Library moving to several other library branches (115th Street and Aguilar) as she spread her storytelling of Puerto Rican folktales. She gained nationwide attention in her efforts as she also published several children's books of Puerto Rican folktales—the most popular being La Cucaracha Martina y el Ratoncito Pérez or Perez and Martina (a love story between a cockroach and a rat).
Belpré retired from the New York Public Library in 1968 but was asked to be a part of the South Bronx Reading Project. In 1996 the American Library Association established the Pura Belpré Award which is presented annually "to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth." The inaugural winner of the award was Chato's Kitchen by Gary Soto, while the most recent award (2013) went to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Further readings on the life of Pura Belpré include:
Children's Books written by Pura Belpré
Programs celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month at the Bronx Library Center include:
September 14, Saturday at 2:30 p.m. An Afternoon of Puerto Rican, Cuban and Dominican Folkloric Music
September 20, Friday at 2 p.m. Arts & Crafts - Create folkloric and storytelling puppets
September 21, Saturday at 2:30 p.m. A Concert by the Sonido Costeño Trio
September 28, Saturday at 2:30 p.m. A Hispanic Film Festival
September 30, Monday at 5:30 p.m. Spanish Book Discussion / Tertulia Literaria/ Criadas Y Senoras por Kathryn Stocket
Saturday, October 19 at 10 a.m. A Hispanic Family Genealogy Workshop by the Hispanic Genealogy Society of New York