“Denis is an indefatigable campaigner, often seen throughout the neighborhood campaigning on the back of a blue bus.”  

       – The New York Times

Nelson Antonio Denis represented East Harlem in the New York State Assembly.Nelson_Denis_and_his_mother_Sarah

He is also an award-winning screenwriter and film director.

He was raised by his grandmother and mother, Sarah Denis.

Sarah arrived from Puerto Rico at age 16, and immediately went to work in the garment center of New York for twenty cents an hour, eight dollars a week.

After 23 years of working and saving, she was able to send her son to Harvard.


Denis graduated from Harvard College and Yale Law School, and was an attorney with the New York firm of Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine.


Denis wrote War Against All Puerto Ricans, a non-fiction book about the Puerto Rican revolution of October 1950. The book documents the gunfights, mass arrests, and secret actions of the CIA and FBI on the island.

It also documents the bombing of two towns in broad daylight – the only time in history that the US ever bombed its own unarmed citizens. 


 For several years, Denis was the editorial director of El Diario La Prensa, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in New York City.

While writing for El Diario, Denis published over 300 editorials and received the “Best Editorial Writing” award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

In addition, Denis published feature articles, book and film reviews, and editorials in the Harvard Political Review, New York Daily News, New York Newsday, and New York Sun.


Denis majored in government at Harvard, and campaigned for Jimmy Carter while at Yale.

In 1996 he won a seat in the New York State Assembly, where he served as a Democrat from 1997 to 2001. He was also a New York State Democratic District Leader from 1995 to 2001.

His campaigns were labor-intensive. There were no high-priced consultants. The press noted that his mother, Sarah, worked 12-hour days on the campaign trail and that Denis was “an indefatigable campaigner, often seen throughout the neighborhood campaigning on the back of a blue bus.”


"Fighting for East Harlem"

In the 1990’s, East Harlem contained over 800 vacant and abandoned buildings. For this reason, when he took office,  Denis fought for economic development projects and construction financing, to rebuild the decaying infrastructure of his neighborhood.

Through his Community Reinvestment Act legislation, public hearings, CRA testimony throughout New York State, and advocacy on the Assembly Banking Committee, Denis persuaded banks to double their lending to home owners and small business persons in East Harlem, the Bronx, and other distressed areas in New York State.

For further information about Denis’s work in East Harlem, see:


In 1994, Denis entered into a controversial relationship with the Almighty Latin King  and Queen Nation.

While jogging along the FDR Drive, he ran into a group of 500 Latin Kings, and recruited them into his campaign for the State Assembly. Denis and the Latin Kings cleaned up several parks in East Harlem,  and attended community board meetings together.

Denis also pledged that, if he won, he would help the Latin Kings to create a community based non-profit corporation, a leadership training course, and a construction apprenticeship program to rehabilitate roughly 800 abandoned buildings in East Harlem. Denis maintained that “the Kings are the product of 20 years of neglect…these are the youth that Reagan forgot,” but others did not agree. His opponent, the incumbent Assemblyman Angel Del Toro, said “they’re gangsters and a threat.”

Another early skeptic was Denis’s own mother, Sarah Denis. She laid down rules that included no beepers or babies in the office, but she gradually learned to work with them.

Despite this controversy, the New York Times endorsed Denis for the State Assembly  that year.


Prior to serving in the New York State Assembly, Denis directed TV commercials and several short films. Later, he wrote and directed the feature film Vote For Me! based on his own political experiences in East Harlem.

Many East Harlem residents, musicians, and even local politicians appeared in the film, which “blurred the line between reality and fiction to capture the spectacle of New York politics.” (New York Times)

Vote For Me! screened in over a dozen film festivals in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Puerto Rico. It won several awards, sold out in every venue, and received nationwide news coverage.

For more information about the film see:


Over the past 30 years Denis completed three novels, eight feature-length screenplays, and several plays and one-acts.Nelson Running

He continues to write newspaper editorials, both in English and Spanish.

He also teaches writing through various college, theatre, and literary arts programs in New York City.

As Hemingway sharpened twenty pencils, and Wilde applied glue to his chair, Denis has his own writing routine. He runs several miles every day, yelling out ideas as they come to him. Then he sits down to write.

Denis is especially interested in the history and culture of Puerto Rico.

Leave a comment


  1. Natalia Spiegel

     /  August 18, 2021

    are you still practicing law? Do you have an office in El Barrio?

  2. Valeria Belvis

     /  November 2, 2017

    Mr. Denis

    I’m a student from University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus. I just finish reading your book and it’s amazing. I want to invite you to give a conference in the Campus. We have a group of student and professor that will love if you could visit us. How can I contact you to give you more information?

    Valeria Belvis

  3. Stephanie Soto

     /  October 25, 2017

    Mr. Denis,

    I work at HBO. How can I get in contact with you for a short interview?

  4. Dear Mr. Denis: I am organizing a panel discussion, “State of Disaster: Puerto Rico and U.S. Relations in the Aftermath of Hurricanes,” for Tuesday, October 24, 6-8pm. Located at the Center for Worker Education, 25 Broadway, 7th fl., this timely discussion will address the historical relationship between the island and the U.S. as well as issues including disaster relief, the Jones Act, and current status. There can be so many layers to the conversation and you are an ideal speaker. Where can I send a formal invitation letter with details?-Elena Romero, CCNY

  5. Elizabeth Delgado

     /  October 10, 2017

    Estimado Denis – i am honored and admire the incredible work you do for the beautiful, resilient people of Puerto Rico and our history. I am writing to you in need of support & help.

    This article just came out today in CBS:

    We must come together and march for the repeal of this act. My fellow hermana Liani and I are forming a movement in my hometown of Lawrence, Ma to repeal this act. To gather fellow Boricuas and allies to join us and march in DC and help lead Puerto Rico to economic freedom. We must act now. Now is the time. Please contact me if you would like to get involved, we are very inspired of your work, knowledge & passion for Puerto Rico. We would be honored to have you join our grassroots team. We need all the help we can get to turn this national even international! Gracias! Que Viva Puerto Rico!

  6. Hello I had a question about the book and wanted to see who I could address it to. Gracias

  7. Christopher Michael Santiago

     /  October 30, 2016

    Dear Mr. Denis,

    Thank you so much for writing “War Against All Puerto Ricans.” Never has a book changed my life more than this one. It helped me realized the kind of writer and person I want to be. As a Latino American, I often think about how my writings can contribute to the Puerto Rican community both in the US and on the mainland of Puerto Rico. I am sad for the amount of tragedies Puerto Rico has endured throughout history and it’s unfortunate that they still suffer today from the hands of the United States government. I hope one day my poems, plays and essays can impact someone’s life like your book has impacted me. Thank you for everything. I hope one day I can have the opportunity to meet you face to face and shake your hand.

    Your Admirer,


  8. Estimado Denis: I am incredibly inspired by your book, as have many of my familia. Please send me your contact information so I could share and consult with you regarding a project related to Puerto Rico’s escudo or coat-of-arms which would be of particular interest to you and your readers.

  9. Mr. Denis,

    I’m from Puerto Rico and I’m writing a thesis for my political science honors program about the Puerto Rican independence movement and the political status of Puerto Rico. How can I contact you for an interview?

    – Patricia

  10. David Penland

     /  June 30, 2015

    I saw you speak on CSPAN and was really impressed. Gracias.

  11. Nelson, please see the review of your book by Jose Umpierre on

  12. How can I contact You?


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