BIO of Nelson Antonio Denis

“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.



In April 2015, Nation Books will publish Denis’s War Against All Puerto Ricans, a study of the Nationalist revolution of 1950 in Puerto Rico. The book uses previously classified FBI documents, archival and university research, and over thirty years of personal interviews to document this little-known chapter in American history.

The book also details the greatest gunfight in Secret Service history, the attempted assassination of President Harry Truman, the arrest of 3,000 Puerto Ricans, and the bombing of two towns (Jayuya and Utuado) by the US government — the only time in history that the US ever bombed its own citizens.


"El Diario/La Prensa"El Diario/La Prensa is the largest and oldest Spanish-language daily newspaper in New York, and the oldest Spanish-language daily in the United States

As its editorial director, Denis published over 300 editorials covering local, national and international news, as well as politics, business and technology, health, entertainment, and human interest stories.

"National Association of Hispanic Journalist" Denis’s work was recognized by the National Association of  Hispanic Journalists with multiple awards for “Best Editorial Writing,” political and cultural reporting, and feature writing.

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


 Denis received the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Fellowship for his film Hound Dog, and the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) Fellowship for his screenplay Lenny’s Prayer.

Vote For Me "The Movie"

He also wrote and directed the feature film comedy Vote For Me! which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and screened at over a dozen others throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

The film was well received: 

The New York Times declared it “reminiscent of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, but with a lighter touch.”

The Boston Globe found it “ebullient…politically charged…mixes quirkiness and cultural poignancy.”

The New York DailyNews called it “a media sensation.”


Denis’s Radio Box premiered at the Theatre For a New City, and had an extended run at  the Chelsea Theatre Center in New York (now known as the Westside Theatre).

Denis’s courtroom drama Every Man For Himself was produced by the Theatre Off Park in New York City, and moved to the Little Theatre Off Broadway.

His one-act plays Doorkeeper and El Alcalde Machuchal were produced at the Trumbull Theatre at Yale University.

Denis was a member of the playwright’s unit at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, the INTAR Theatre, and a playwright-in-residence at the Shaman Repertory Theatre.


"Writers Guild Of America east"Denis has passed on his writing experience to students at the Writers Guild of America East (WGAE), the NYU Graduate Film School, Touro College, the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, Shaman Repertory Theatre, Grosvenor Neighborhood House, Teachers and Writers Collaborative, and Poets in the Public Service.


Lift the Cap on Charters; New York Daily News (4/5/2010)

Albany’s Political Club; New York Sun (12/21/06)

Late blooming woes to plague on-time budget; New York Daily News (4/12/05 

Reforming Albany takes more than talk; New York Newsday (1/22/07)

Los legisladores aprobaron un McBudget; El Diario La Prensa(5/12/05)

History still Roils Puerto Rico; New York Daily News (9/23/99)

La Crisis de Vivienda Publica; El Diario La Prensa (12/14/95)

Justicia para Julia de Burgos; El Diario La Prensa (10/8/95)

Silver screen tarnished for Latinos; New York Daily News(5/26/95)

Beware Primrose Pathmark; New York Daily News (4/24/95)

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