Renowned poet and activist Essex Hemphill passed away on November 4, 1995 of AIDS-related complications. We continue to feel his presence in his words, and to feel his strength in his legacy of cultural activism and artistry.

Essex's passing has been met with many efforts to memorialize the importance of his life and works, as well as by new controversies within the lesbigay communities. This STANDARDS tribute celebrates the vast importance of Essex Hemphill's figure as a Black gay man, a noted poet, a person living with HIV, and a family member, within all the diverse communties he loved and honored.


Information this Page:

Featured Contributors

Memorial Fund Information

Community Debates and Dialogues

Literary Tribute to Essex Hemphill




In this issue:


"Intimate with the Dead" by L Deerfield

"Funny Thing, Essex: An Open Letter" by Steven G. Fullwood

"An Open Letter for Essex, My Brother" by Lois Holmes

"Introduction: On Poetry, Dedicated to Essex" by Canéla A. Jaramillo








A fund has been established in memory of Essex Hemphill. Donations may be sent to the following address:


National Capital Bank of Washington
c/o Essex Hemphill Memorial
316 Pennsylvania Southeast
Washington, DC 20003





Commentaries in some of the national lesbigay newsgroups have brought to the forefront, once more, the tensions surrounding the handling of funerals and memorial services among the families of origin and the queer communities who are both suffering the loss of one who is loved. We are saddened that the grief and outrage have cleaved further divisions within these communities. As one newsgroup participant wrote: this is not what Essex wanted.

The issues surrounding the perceptions of the way Essex's family of origin handled his funeral bring to the fore some of the most important issues of our times. Yet, as Essex's sister, Lois Holmes, pointed out, the public debate naming her family did not include direct dialogue with the family members themselves.

The week after Thanksgiving, I had the honor of engaging in dialogue, for nearly two hours, with Essex's mother, Mantalene Hemphill. It became clear to me, in speaking with this strong, dignified woman, that the roots of Essex's spiritual love and integrity run deep. This is not a woman who wanted to have her family set up as scapegoats for the national debate on whether Black families try to erase the gay identities of their loved ones at funerals. Mantalene Hemhill was, in that conversation, a grieving mother. And so much more.

Not long after that exchange, Essex's sister Lois determined to engage in this debate, from the point of view of the family. It is our hope that publishing Lois' point of view here will open a larger dialogue on the idea of whether a Black gay man "belongs" to the queer communities, his family of origin, or to both -- this is the idea of bringing unity from division, which was, after all, a central component of Essex's life-long project, even when it hurt.


With tender regard,

Canéla Analucinda Jaramillo





Relevant contributions to this ongoing debate may be found by following the links below:

Link to Deb Price's Interview with Essex Hemphill, in Same Gender Loving: Bi and Transgendered People of the African Diaspora

Link to Chuck Tarver's reprinted 1990 Interview with Essex, in The Black Stripe

Link to Digest of Related Newsgroup Postings on the Subject of Essex Hemphill

GLBPOC Postings on Essex Hemphill








This issue of STANDARDS includes early works by Essex Hemphill that have long been out of print. We thank Essex; Frances Goldin, of the Frances Goldin Literary Agency; and Mantalene Hemphill, Essex's mother, for their help in making this tribute possible.

Colleagues and friends of Essex's are also invited to submit short pieces in honor of Essex's memory. We hope to include as many remembrances as possible. See the Submissions Page for further information.




 Text © 1996, 2002 by Canéla Analucinda Jaramillo

Original Graphics © 2002 by Emmanuela Copal de León




Forward to "An Open Letter for Essex, My Brother" by Lois Holmes

Tribute Page | Poetry by Essex Hemphill

Contents by Contributor/Title | Contents by Genre


About Standards