Tribute: Happy 55th Birthday to the Late Great Essex Hemphill

Essex Hemphill (April 16, 1957 to November 4, 1995). Essex Hemphill was a remarkable American Poet and fierce advocate for same-gender loving men of African Descent. In 1993, he was awarded a prestigious Pew Fellowship in the Arts.

Essex Hemphill was born on this day in Chicago in 1957 to Mantalene Clark Hemphill and Warren A. Hemphill Sr. and was raised in Southeast Washington, DC. He began writing at age of 14 and went on to attend the University of Maryland. His poetry was published in more than a dozen periodicals and in several anthologies. His best known works include In the Life (1986), a seminal anthology of writings by Black gay men, Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men, which won a Lambda Literary Award, and Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry. In 1989, his poems were featured in the award-winning documentaries by Marlon Riggs: Tongues Untied and Looking for Langston.

Essex Hemphill’s poetry has been described as “spare and intense” and his work is revered by many because he gave voice to the struggles and triumphs of Black, Gay men through the aesthetic power of his work, and through the testimony he provided about the struggle for gay equality as seen through the work of a gifted Black and gay poet.

His poetry has been published widely in journals, and his essays have appeared in High Performance, Gay Community News, RFD Magazine, The Advocate, Pyramid Periodical, Essence, and others.

Essex Hemphill died on November 4, 1995 at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia of AIDS-related complications. He continues to inspire and challenge us through his writings and activism, to live lives of integrity and love. Essex Hemphill would have been 55 today.

Stephen Maglott is Director of Correspondence for the New York State Senate.

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