Algarín was born in Puerto Rico and was educated and raised in a culturally-minded household. The love for all things involving culture always prevailed in his family. He received his primary and secondary education in New York and later went on to college. He developed a love and understanding of the works of Shakespeare. Shakespeare's antique tales were the force which motivated Algarin to strive to oneday have a place of his own where he could tell the story of where he lives. Eventually, Algarín became a Professor of Shakespeare, Creative Writing and United States Ethnic Literature at Rutgers University.
In 1973, Algarín was using the living room of his apartment in Manhattan as a gathering place for poets and artists. By 1975, there were so many poets and artists gathering and reciting their works in the apartment, that Algarín decided to look for a more comfortable location.
Algarín, Miguel Piñero, and other poets rented a location on East 6th Street and named it the Nuyorican (New York-Puerto Rican) Poets Cafe. In 1980, Algarín purchased a building on East 3rd Street to expand the cafe. The Cafe is now a non-profit organization that offers programs which include poetry and prose readings, theatrical and musical performances, and visual arts exhibits.
theater has won over 30 "AUDELCO Awards" and was honored with an Obie grant for excellence in theater. Of the screenplays read in the theater, 40 have been turned into films. The Latin Jam Session which is celebrated at the Cafe has been a weekly "Critics Choice" at the New York Press for six consecutive years. The Cafe also has a radio broadcast on WBAI, where Algarín starts the broadcast with his signature "We're live from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe".
Algarín edited with Miguel Piñero "Nuyorican Poetry: An Anthology of Puerto Rican Words and Feelings". He is the editor of "Action: The Nuyorican Cafe Theatre Festival" and co-editor of "Aloud". Among his award winning poems are "Times Now/Ya Es Hora" and "Love is Hard Work".
Algarín holds the status of Professor Emeritus for his more than 30 years of service to Rutgers University. He has received three American Book Awards and the Larry Leon Hamlin Producer's Award at the 2001 National Black Festival. In the movie "Piñero", about the life of Miguel Piñero, directed by Leon Ichaso and starring Benjamin Bratt, Algarín is portrayed by the actor Giancarlo Esposito.
Algarín retired as professor from Rutgers University, but continues as the executive producer of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe's theater and is currently working on a piece of literature titled "Dirty Beauty".