Jewelle Gomez

(b. 1948)

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(b. 1948), poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, teacher, and political activist.

Jewelle Gomez contributes to the growing genre of gay literature and lesbian literature by African Americans. Born in Boston, daughter of John (“Duke”) Gomes, a bartender of Portuguese descent, and Delores Minor LeClair, a nurse, she lived on welfare with her Native American great-grandmother, Gracias Archelina Sportsman Morandus, until the age of twenty-two.

After receiving her BA from Northeastern University in 1971 and her MS from Columbia University School of Journalism in 1973, she worked as a television production assistant in Boston and New York and as a stage manager for Off-Broadway plays from 1971 to 1981. She was director of the Literature Program for the New York State Council on the Arts from 1989 to 1993 and taught creative writing and women's studies.

Upon hearing the revolutionary poetry of Nikki Giovanni and Audre Lorde and seeing Ntozake Shange's play for colored girls, she was inspired “to write about women's lives” and “the women she had known.” She self-published two books of poetry, The Lipstick Papers (1980) and Flamingoes and Bears (1987), that extolled love and sexuality. The Gilda Stories (1991), a first novel, introduces through fantasy/science fiction the first black lesbian vampire. The book won two Lambda Literary Awards for Lesbian Fiction and Lesbian Science Fiction/Fantasy in 1991. This was her third award for fiction, following the Beard's Fund (1985) and Barbara Deming (1990) awards.

Gomez's essays, Forty-three Septembers (1993), reflect on family members, childhood, self-discovery as a lesbian, and social and feminist issues. Despite her productivity and recognition as a literary critic, Gomez wavers on the outer edge of the writing mainstream because of her unconventional gay and lesbian subjects. To her, the nontraditional themes in her works contribute “to support the idea that African American is not simply one way of being.”

Lisa L. Nelson, “An Interview with Jewelle Gomez,” Poets & Writers 21 (July-Aug. 1993): 34–45.Michael Bronski, “Jewelle Gomez,” in Gay and Lesbian Literature, ed. Sharon Malinowski, 1994, pp. 163–164.

— Ann Allen Shockley

Subjects: Literature.

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