Lorenzo Thomas was an eminent American poet and literary figure. He gained popularity through his honest and cutting edge writing on his personal experiences during the African-American artistic movement. His childhood was marked by an easy life, with the exception of the local kids bullying him on his Spanish language, which motivated him to master English later on. It was during his college days that he became a member of the Umbra workshop where he befriended various upcoming black poets and got familiar with the culture, music, and cinema prevailing in the African-American era of the 1960s and 1970s, which formed a major part of his poetry collections and other scholarly works. His works mostly dealt with issues in Vietnam and civil rights movement. Some of his distinguished works included ‘Chances Are Few’, ‘Dancing on Main Street’, ‘The Bathers’, ‘Extraordinary Measures: Afrocentric Modernism and Twentieth-Century American Poetry’, and ‘Don’t Deny My Name: Words and Music and the Black Intellectual Tradition’. A number of his works got published in different journals, such as Living Blues, Popular Music and Society, African American Review, Arrowsmith, and others. Apart from his literary career, he served in the Navy in Vietnam and worked at Texas Southern University and University of Houston-Downtown, for over 20 years
Childhood & Early Life
Lorenzo Thomas was born on August 31, 1944, in the Republic of Panama, to a pharmacist father and a community activist mother.
The family migrated to New York City in 1948, when he was four, and lived in the Bronx and Queens.
He graduated from Queens College, New York City, in 1968.
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While studying at Queens College, he actively participated in the Umbra workshop, along with other members such as David Henderson, Tom Dent, Ishmael Reed, and Larry Neal, which greatly influenced his poetry.
He was actively involved in the Black Arts Movement in New York City, which familiarized him with its political and racial rights struggle as well as the black music, American popular culture, and cinema of that era.
Some of his early poetry collections included ‘A Visible Island’ (1966), ‘Dracula’ (1973), and ‘Framing the Sunrise’ (1975).
After graduating, he joined the Navy as a military advisor in 1971 and got posted in Vietnam.
He quit the Navy in 1973 and relocated to Houston where he was appointed as writer-in-residence at Texas Southern University (TSU).
At TSU, he was responsible for editing the magazine ‘Roots’ and conducting writing workshops for the artists-in-the-schools program, at the newly-established Black Arts Center.
In 1984, he left TSU and joined University of Houston-Downtown as an English professor, where he taught for over two decades and served as the Director of its Cultural Enrichment Center.
He was involved in organizing Juneteenth Blues Festival in Houston and other cities of Texas.
His poems, such as ‘Dirge for Amadou Diallo’, ‘Coffles’, and ‘Psalm’ reflected the violence suffered by Africans in America during the 1960s.
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His last works ‘Extraordinary Measures: Afrocentric Modernism and Twentieth-Century American Poetry’ (2000) and ‘Don’t Deny My Name: Words and Music and the Black Intellectual Tradition’ (2008) reflected the African-American culture.
He published his literary works in various journals, like Living Blues, Arrowsmith, Blues Unlimited (England), African American Review, Ploughshares, among others.
Apart from writing book reviews for Houston Chronicle, he also submitted scholarly articles to American Literary Scholarship, Dictionary of Literary Biography, African American Encyclopedia, and Gulliver (Germany).
Among his most popular poetry collections were ‘Chances Are Few’ (1979), whose expanded second edition was released in 2003, and ‘Dancing on Main Street’ (2004).
His other well-known books are ‘The Bathers’, ‘Es Gibt Zeugen’, and ‘Sing the Sum Up: Creative Writing Ideas from African-American Literature’.
Awards & Achievements
His ‘Extraordinary Measures: Afrocentric Modernism and Twentieth-Century American Poetry’ won the Choice Outstanding Academic Book for the year 2000.
He was honored with the Houston Festival Foundation Award and received the National Endowment for the Arts grant.
Personal Life & Legacy
He suffered from emphysema and died on July 4, 2005, in Texas Medical Center Hospice, at the age of 60.
Since Spanish was his native language, this American poet had a hard time dealing with kids (during childhood), who found his communication funny. As such, he struggled to become fluent in English, which caught his interest in creative writing.