Monday, October 23, 2006

LORENZO THOMAS Remembered in Oakland

. . . accepting the convention
We live for but never mention.
--Lorenzo Thomas

I've been away from the blog for a bit, making my way back and forth across the country to meet with fellow writers and scholars in Oakland and Brooklyn. In the next few entries, I'll be posting photos from those sessions. First up, the convention of the American Studies Association in Oakland.

This year at the ASA, I was part of a panel in tribute to the poet and critic Lorenzo Thomas. Lorenzo was a long-time member of the American Studies Association, and it was at his suggestion that Anna and I presented papers on a panel about black intellectual life in Atlanta the last time the conference met in that city. Lorenzo was to have presented a paper as well, but his health was already failing, and we had to read his paper for him in his absence. This year's panel was a bittersweet followup to the critical session devoted to Lorenzo's own work that was presented at the American Studies Association meeting in Houston. That panel was organized by Barry Maxwell, who is seen gesturing indexically in one of the photos below. The other presenters that year were Kalamu ya Salaam and Maria Damon and your humble blogger

The roundtable for this year's meeting was put together by James Smethurst, of the University of Massachusetts' Department of Black Studies.

The first speaker was Barry, who is editing a posthumous collection of Lorenzo's talks, essays and interviews for the University of Michigan Press. Barry delivered a deeply touching retrospective view of Lorenzo Thomas's life in poetry, teaching and activism.

My own talk was drawn from the preface to another work by Lorenzo that will also be published by Michigan. DON'T DENY MY NAME will be a volume of essays on words, music and the black intellectual tradition. The manuscript had been submitted to Michigan and had already cleared the first hurdle of peer reviewing at the time of Lorenzo's death. I have taken on the task of cleaning up the manuscript, tracking down some of Lorenzo's sources and preparing the volume for release. In addition to Lorenzo's reflections on such topic as the relationships between poetry and the blues, or the Black Arts era comprehensions of music, the book also draws from interviews Lorenzo accomplished over the years with people like Juke Boy Bonner and the men who sponsored Sonny Boy Williamson's KING BISCUIT HOUR broadcast out of Helena, Arkansas. The work on that book should be done shortly, and I'll be turning it over to the press for publication by year's end.

Lastly, we heard from the always provocative Ishmael Reed. Reed had been an associate of Lorenzo's in the days of the UMBRA Writers' workshop in New York, and published one of Lorenzo's major collections of poetry, THE BATHERS,which brings together work that Lorenzo had published in chapbooks and journals between 1972 and 1981.

We had a generous and enthusiastic audience that afternoon in Oakland, an audience brought together by Lorenzo's powerful words.

There will be another panel dedicated to Lorenzo's work at this year's meeting of the Modern Language Association in Philadelphia. Hope to see you there.

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