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Essex Hemphill -- Queer black poet, HIV activist, zombie-lover

He had fallen, / and the passing ceremonies / marking his death / did not stop the war.
—Essex Hemphill, excerpt from "When My Brother Fell" (qtd in Reid-Pharr 181)

Writing my research paper for LTST 605 has turned up all kinds of great material that probably won't make it into that paper, but which is fascinating, enriching, exciting, and, in this case, will probably be useful for my final project. 

In Robert Reid-Pharr's Black Gay Man, the last chapter "A Child's Life," is a beautiful tribute to poet Essex Hemphill, who died of complications related to HIV/AIDS. The essay included excerpts from Hemphill's poetry, including this selection from "Heavy Breathing":

Occasionally I long
to fuck a dead man
I never slept with.
I pump up my temperature
imagining his touch
as I stroke my wishbone,
wanting to raise him up alive,
wanting my fallen seed
to produce him full-grown
and breathing heavy
when it shoots across my chest;
wanting him upon me,
alive and aggressive,
intent on his sweet buggery
even if my eyes do
lack a trace of blue.
—Essex Hemphill, excerpt from "Heavy Breathing" (qtd in Reid Pharr 179-80)

I really appreciate a good zombie-fucking in my reading. The library doesn't have Hemphill's book, Ceremonies, so I'll have to see whether the local university library has it, or the Book Monopoly (but their queer offerings so far have been slim, and I'm still wary of the clerks who keep trying to convince me to buy the Fifty Shades trilogy). 

Here is a very nice tribute to Hemphill. In his own tribute in Black Gay Man, Reid-Pharr writes:

Will you remember Essex? Remember, then, that he was a nigger and a faggot, one who died tragically of AIDS long before he wanted to go. Remember that he did not simply rail against racism and homophobia as they occurred out there in the nevernever land of straight America but within the lesbian and gay community itself, including the black lesbian and gay community. Remember that his death was neither understandable, nor inevitable, but the direct result of willful neglect and abuse. (180)


  • Anonymous August 13, 2015 - 2:34pm

    I have been student and i learned that i need something like this!
    - AndrewPn