Lorenzo Thomas

(b. 1944)

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(b. 1944), poet, literary and music critic, and educator with roots in the Black Arts movement.

Lorenzo Thomas emerged from the Black Arts movement as one of the most prolific poets of the 1970s. Though best–known for his poetry, he also actively promotes the understanding and appreciation of all African American cultural forms, particularly music. Born in Panama to Herbert Hamilton Thomas and Luzmilda Gilling Thomas, Thomas immigrated to New York in 1948. As a native Spanish speaker, Thomas traces his interest in literature to his struggle to learn English in order to fit in with his schoolmates. While attending Queens College in the 1960s, Thomas joined the Umbra workshop, one of several experimental literary groups from which the Black Arts movement grew. Here, Thomas developed a poetic style marked by a wariness of the media and mass culture, pride in the African heritage and history, and a strong sense of political engagement. While Thomas also works powerfully in the lyric mode, such works as “Framing the Sunrise,” “Historiography,” and “The Bathers” typify his ability to combine heterogeneous source material into a comment on modern life. Underlying the often fragmented form of his poetry is Thomas's belief in the universal qualities of the experience of all people of African descent.

Thomas joined the United States Navy in 1968, serving as a military advisor in Vietnam in 1971. He reflects on the experience of war and the return to civilian life in such poems as “Wonders” and “Envoy.” In 1973 he left New York to become writer in residence at Texas Southern University and has lived in the Southwest ever since. From his base in Texas, Thomas expanded his artistic range and increased his work with African American musical forms. He conducted writing workshops at Houston's Black Arts Center from 1974 to 1976 and was one of the first black authors to work in artists–in–the–schools programs in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Blues Music in Arkansas (1982), cowritten with Louis Guida and Cheryl Cohen, is a product of his association with these programs. He was also an organizer for the June–teenth Blues Festival. He remains active at both the grassroots and institutional levels, conducting readings, hosting music programs and writing for regional publications as well as working with the Texas Commission of Arts and Humanities and the Cultural Arts Council of Houston. He currently teaches at the University of Houston–Downtown.

Thomas's major collections of poetry are Chances Are Few (1979); The Bathers (1981), which contains uncollected early work as well as the text from three early publications; Fit Music (1972); Dracula (1973); and Framing the Sunrise (1975). His work also appears in anthologies including Black Fire (1968), New Black Voices (1972), The Poetry of Black America (1973), Jambalaya (1974), American Poetry Since 1970: Up Late (1987) and Erotique Noire (1992). In prose, Thomas has published literary and music criticism for both academic and general audiences including Sing the Sun Up: Creative Writing Ideas from African American Literature, which he edited in 1998. As yet, little criticism has been published on Thomas's work.


Subjects: Literature.

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