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literature

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Saint, Assotto (1957-1994)  
 
page: 1  2  

In his essay "Why I Write," Saint stressed that his aim was to make black queer voices fully part of American life. Through his editing and publishing, he became the mentor of an entire generation of black gay writers such as Essex Hemphill, Marlon Riggs, and Melvin Dixon, and his influence lives on in the lives and work of such writers as Samuel Delaney, Carl Phillips, Kobena Mercer, Phillip Brian Harper, and Isaac Julien.

After Saint and Holmgren were diagnosed as HIV-positive, Saint threw himself into AIDS activism. He was aware of too many artists who went to their deaths in secrecy about their AIDS status and determined that he would be open about his struggle. He was one of five AIDS activists featured in Marlon Riggs' film No Regrets (Non, Je Regrette Rien) (1993).

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Published at a time when the American government was still reluctant to fund AIDS research and prevention programs, Saint's collections of poems Stations and Wishing for Wings celebrated the solidarity among gay men in the face of the disease and contrasted this type of queer heroism with the indifference of politicians and decision-makers.

Saint conceived his work as a challenge to the social norms that required invisibility and silence from both black gay men and people with AIDS. His writing constantly reverses expectations regarding sex and gender and provocatively combines queerness and traditional Haitian folklore and mythology.

The artist never relinquished his Haitian cultural heritage. In spite of the widespread in the Haitian diasporic community, Saint felt linked to that community because of their common fights against the oppressive regime of the Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier.

In addition to retaining close connections to his home country, Saint also fully participated in the social and political movements in the United States, demanding more effective measures against racial and sexual discrimination, and participating in demonstrations and protests against the government's ineffective response to the AIDS crisis.

Saint's work is motivated by the conviction that the personal is the political; as the author himself wrote in Spells of a Voodoo Doll: "[o]ur writings should very much be a public process that reflects private passions." His poetry starts from private and personal passions to confront the AIDS crisis openly, thus conceiving poetic composition as an act of survival that breaks the silence surrounding people with AIDS even as it also disturbingly documents the physical and psychological ravages of the disease.

The death of Holmgren on March 29, 1993 profoundly affected Saint. In the three-part prose piece entitled "No More Metaphors" interwoven through the poems in Wishing for Wings, the writer concludes that no words can convey his despair over the death of his partner. However, as with most of Assotto's oeuvre, "No More Metaphors" can be easily reversed in meaning and be read, rather than simply an admission of despair, as a call to political activism, encouraging his readers to confront the virus in all its aspects, including the most devastating ones.

Assotto Saint died of AIDS-related complications on June 29, 1994. In the preface to the anthology The Road before Us, Saint had requested that, in protest of the indifference of American society to those dying of AIDS, that the American flag be burned at his funeral and its ashes scattered on his grave.

Luca Prono

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   Related Entries
  
arts >> Overview:  African-American and African Diaspora Art

Gay and lesbian artists of the African Diaspora have recently begun to explore issues specific to gender and sexuality; often relying on self-portraiture, they address homophobia and racism as well as desire and longing.

literature >> Overview:  African-American Literature: Gay Male

The African-American gay male literary tradition consists of a substantial body of texts and includes some of the most gifted writers of the twentieth century.

social sciences >> Overview:  AIDS Activism

In the United States, glbtq people have played an integral and often leading role in AIDS activism, greatly influencing AIDS treatment and advocacy.

arts >> Overview:  AIDS Activism in the Arts

In response to the AIDS epidemic, a number of activist groups, including Gran Fury and the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, have used art as a means to raise awareness about the epidemic.

literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Gay Male, Post-Stonewall

After Stonewall, gay male literature became focused as a movement, aided by the development of gay newspapers, magazines, and quarterlies and the founding of serious gay and lesbian bookstores.

literature >> Overview:  Journalism and Publishing

The gay and lesbian press is of prime importance in sustaining a frequently embattled minority and has been crucial in the development of a national mass movement for gay rights.

arts >> Overview:  Performance Art

Performance art has been embraced by queer artists as a means of challenging the very idea of traditional in art and culture.

arts >> Overview:  Rock Music

Although rock music has been closely associated with freedom of expression and rebelliousness, it has not been particularly welcoming to gay and lesbian performers.

arts >> Overview:  Theater Companies

Gay and lesbian theater companies attempt to create their own communities, while also fostering a sense of solidarity with the glbtq community and educating the larger society.

literature >> Delany, Samuel R.

Writer of science fiction, memoirs, erotica, cultural studies, and postmodern criticism, and winner of multiple Nebula, Hugo, and Lambda Literary Awards, Samuel R. Delany is widely regarded as one of the finest science fiction writers of his generation.

literature >> Dixon, Melvin

Rather than standing apart from the experience of being African American because of his homosexuality, poet and novelist Melvin Dixon embraced his community and demanded that his community embrace him in return.

literature >> Hemphill, Essex

Despite his relatively brief literary career, Essex Hemphill became arguably the most critically acclaimed and best known openly gay contemporary African-American poet.

arts >> Julien, Isaac

Filmmaker, artist, and cultural critic Isaac Julien is the most prominent member of a new wave of black artists and filmmakers involved in examining black and gay representation.

arts >> Riggs, Marlon

African-American filmmaker Marlon Riggs celebrated black culture and gay male sexuality, while exposing homophobia and racism.


    Bibliography
   

Braziel, Jana Evans. Artists, Performers and Black Masculinity in the Haitian Diaspora. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008.

Holland, Walter. "The Calamus Root: A Study of American Gay Poetry Since World War II." Journal of Homosexuality 34.3/4 (1998).

Nelson, Emmanuel S. Contemporary Gay American Poets and Playwrights: An A-Z Guide. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003.

Steward, Douglas. "Saint's Progeny: Assotto Saint, Gay Black Poets, and Poetic Agency in the Field of the Queer Symbolic." African American Review 33.3 (Fall 1999): 507-18.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Prono, Luca  
    Entry Title: Saint, Assotto  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2011  
    Date Last Updated January 23, 2011  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/saint_assotto.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2011 glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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