A unique take on the life’s work of poet Essex Hemphill is the subject of an extraordinary exhibition, Take Care of Your Blessings: Items from the Essex Hemphill/Wayson Jones Collection now on display at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library. The Black Gay & Lesbian Archive, the largest archive of materials created by and about black queer life, produced the exhibition as a part of The Audre Lorde/Essex Hemphill Memorial Lecture, an annual event meant to commemorate the lives of the American poets, Audre Lorde (1934 -1992) and Essex Hemphill (1957-1995), as well as encourage exciting scholarship and literary production within the communities to whom their poetry and prose spoke.
Essex Hemphill (1957-1995) was a groundbreaking thinker, writer and activist whose published works include Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry (1992), Conditions: Poems (1986) and Earth Life (1985) and his poetry and prose have been published widely in anthologies such as In The Life: A Black Gay Anthology (1986) and Tongues Untied (1988), and periodicals such as Thing, Pyramid Periodical, Essence, and Gay Community News. He was also the editor of Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men (1991).
Take Care of Your Blessings: Items from the Essex Hemphill/Wayson Jones Collection featured rare and unpublished manuscripts of Essex Hemphill’s as well as copies of his first two chapbooks, Plums (1982) and Diamonds Was in the Kitty (1983), assorted photographs, fliers, posters and programs. Wayson Jones, a musician who collaborated with Hemphill in Cinque, performance group (along with Larry Duckette) and later as a duo (Hemphill and Jones) in the 1980s, donated the material to the Black Gay & Lesbian Archive.
The 2nd Annual lecture on November 8th featured poet Cheryl Clarke 2010 who used Hemphill?s poem, “Heavy Breathing,” as the centerpiece for her talk. The lecture was sponsored by the Africana Studies Concentration and co-sponsored by the Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean, the PhD Program in English at CUNY and the Black Gay & Lesbian Archive Project, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library. Films featuring Hemphill and his work, Tongues Untied and Black Is…Black Aint also premiered at the Anthology Film Archives in conjunction with the lecture.
Photo credit: Daniel Cima