So today was my second try at leading an GLBT Walking tour of Literary Washington. This time the tour was under the auspices of Beltway Poetry Quarterly and Split This Rock Poetry Festival (the original sponsor of the tour with financial help from White Crane Institute). Inspired by walking tours I’d taken with my friend Kim Roberts, I’d originally developed it for the Split This Rock festival in March. Sadly only two people showed up for that first offering. I think long distance from the festival site on U Street and the early morning hour after long till-2am poetry open mics spelled doom for that tour’s turnout. The two hearty folks that showed up (not counting my darling fere Pete) were great, but I was hoping for more folks. Kim, innately understanding all that went into designing a tour like this, (all the hours spent doing research through biographies, interviewing still living folks from those eras, and searching through old city directories etc) — wisely suggested holding it again in June and offered to sponsor it through Beltway. Split This Rock offered to co-host again and they jointly put the word out through their wondrous communications channels and VOILA! we had over fifteen folks show up to do the reading. Oh, and we had a really wonderful write up in the Washington Blade, courtesy of their arts writer Amy Cavanaugh. Anyway, I was psyched when I saw the very engaged and very diverse crowd of folks who showed up. And poets!!
[at right, Philip Clarke, Tonetta Landis, Craig Harris and I in front of the Whitman public art project at the Dupont Circle metro stop] The tour itself ambles around Dupont Circle beginning with the circle itself, talking about proto-Gay poets in Washington, DC (Walt Whitman, Natalie Barney) then talked about the queer poets of the
Harlem DC Renaissance: Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Bruce Nugent, Angelina Weld Grimke etc. We spent some time talking about the various Radical Writers collectives in DC in the 1970s including the BreadBox collective, the Lesbian Feminist "Furies Collective" (which included and published the work of Rita Mae Brown, Charlotte Bunch, Pat Parker, Willyce Kim, photographer Linda Koolish, June Slavin, Judy Grahn, Lee Lally, and others), the Skyline Faggot Collective, and the GLF collective. I also mentioned the newspapers that began in the early 70s and were vital to publishing much of this new poetry: the Gay Blade ( forerunner to the Washington Blade), Off Our Backs, Furies, Motive magazine and BreadBox.
It was great to spend some time speaking of those literary collectives that really broke ground in the 1970s. The Furies published some groundbreaking work through their newspaper as did the Skyline Faggot Collective that worked on the last issue of the United Methodist-funded Motive issues. I had a chance to read some poems by a contributor to that historic publication, Perry Brass (who lives in New York now and who will be coming to DC for a reading in the Fall). I also spent some time talking about the Mass Transit reading series of the 1970s that were held at the countercultural Community Bookshop on P Street and featured ground breaking poets (both Gay and Straight) including Ed Cox, Tim Dlugos, Michael Lally, Lee Lally, Beth Joselow, Terence Winch, Tina Darragh, E. Ethelbert Miller, Liam Rector, and Hugh Walthall (who WAS ON THE TOUR!!). Many of these writers are associated with New York City when in actual fact they were from and began their work in Washington. We also covered what I’m calling the Second Black Gay Renaissance of the 1980s and early 90s (the "first" meaning the aforementioned Harlem DC Renaissance writers). The poets of this second era included Essex Hemphill, Craig Harris, Larry Duckette, Wayson Jones, Tania Abdulahad, Gideon Ferebee, Papaya Mann, Michelle Parkerson, Garth Tate and others. We stopped at a location of one of Essex Hemphill’s readings and listened to archival audio of Hemphill reading his "Black Beans" poem.
[At right: This bus just called out for photographic documentation] Along the way we stopped to see some of these writers’ homes and hear some of their poems recited. And as in Hemphill’s case, on a few occasions we listened to archival audio recordings of the poets reading their own work. I ended the tour where we began, in Dupont Circle, hearing a recording of Allen Ginsberg reading his poetry at the very first Gay March on Washington in 1979. He read "The Weight" and a beautiful little gem of a poem on Gay rights that I have never seen in print in any of his published books. A perfect ending to a very nice walking tour.
The response was very positive and encouraging to me to say the least. The folks on the tour were so engaged and many shared additional information that enriched the experience (a few were present at some of the events and added information that’s invaluable). Kim said she enjoyed it, and as I consider her an expert on these tours) that meant the world to me.
[at left, Joseph Ross, me, Kim Roberts, L. Lamar Wilson, and Craig Harris in front of the site of the old Gay Community Building on 21st Street] A few people weren’t able to do the tour and sent their regrets with the hope to do it "next year." When I heard that at the beginning of the tour I figured it was hopeful thinking, but now, I think it might be worth considering.
Hugh Walthall was nice enough to give me a copy of his book ladidah and Beth Joselow’s The April Wars which he published in 1983. Treasures! All in all a very satisfying afternoon.