Ceremonies offers provocative commentary on highly charged topics such as Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs of African-American men, feminism among men, and AIDS in the black community.
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Cleis Press proudly announces Ceremonies, a new edition of the landmark collection of verse and commentary by one of the most provocative African American gay authors since James Baldwin. Winner of the 1993 American Library Association's Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Book Award, Ceremonies tackles cultural controversy with remarkable force and clarity. Whether he is addressing love between men, AIDS in the African American community, racism among white gay artists, coming home or coming out, Hemphill's insights give voice to a generation of men silenced by fears of reprisal and rejection.
Born in Chicago in 1957, Essex Hemphill was raised in Washington, D.C. before settling in Philadelphia as a poet, writer, and activist. His earliest work appeared in Earth Life (1985) and Conditions (1986), however, it was Joseph Beam's groundbreaking anthology of gay African American writing, In the Life (1986), that launched Hemphill into the literary world.
Following Beam's AIDS-related death in 1988, Hemphill assumed editorial responsibilities of the planned sequel, Brother to Brother, which later won a Lambda Literary Award in 1991. Hemphill's own collection of writings--many of them addressing controversial topics such as the sexual objectification of black gay men, homosexuality in the African American community, and intergenerational sex-- appeared the next year under the title Ceremonies, winner of the 1993 American Library Association's Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Book Award.
Hemphill reached perhaps his widest audience through film. Beginning in 1985 with the Marlon Riggs documentary Tongues Untied, Hemphill and his work appeared in a series of movies, including Looking for Langston (1989) and Black Is/Black Ain't (1995). Commenting on Hemphill's impact on the cultural movement among African American gay men of the 1980s, Riggs remarked, "No voice speaks with more eloquent, thought-provoking clarity about contemporary Black gay life than that of Essex Hemphill."
Yet his work also speaks to women across lines of sexual orientation. In his introduction to the Cleis Press edition of Ceremonies, critic Charles I. Nero writes, "I am reminded just how much Hemphill was indebted to politicized black women when I hear in his work echoes of Ntozake Shange, Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde, and bell hooks." Indeed, these feminist influences resonate in poems such as "To Some Supposed Brothers", in which Hemphill writes, "We so-called men, we so-called brothers wonder why it's so hard to love our women when we're about loving them the way America loves us."
Hemphill's work additionally appears in Gay & Lesbian Poetry in Our Time, The Road Before Us, and Erotique Noire/Black Erotica, as well as having been published in The Advocate, Essence, Callaloo, and The James White Review among others. He died of complications related to HIV/AIDS in 1995.From Library Journal:
As a gay African American acutely aware that he straddles two beleaguered subcultures all too frequently themselves at odds, Hemphill--author of two previous volumes of poetry and editor of the anthology Brother to Brother --strives to bridge the gap in this collection of strongly felt, surely drafted poems and essays. Often explicit, the poems range from hauntingly erotic lyricism--"I am lonely for past kisses, for wild lips certain streets breed for pleasure"--to the belyingly dulled cadences of a dramatic monolog in the voice of a "Colored nurse" complicit in the notorious Tuskegee Institute syphilis experiments. The essays also roam wide and deep. Whether Hemphill is persuasively comparing the reasoning of a psychiatrist's antihomosexual polemic to the soon-hollow rush of cocaine or describing his grandmother's reaction to his poems--"Essex, do the au thorities know what you're writing about?"--he makes passionate common sense. This is urgent, fiercely telling work.
-Thomas Tavis, San Francisco P.L.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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