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Saint, Assotto (1957-1994)  
 
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Through his contributions to literary and popular culture, Haitian-born American poet, performance artist, musician, and editor and publisher Assotto Saint increased the visibility of black authors and themes during the 1980s and early 1990s. In addition, Saint was both one of the first black activists to disclose his HIV-positive status and one of the first poets to respond to the AIDS crisis in his work.

His legacy includes his own literary and theatrical work and his role as publisher and editor of other writers. His theatrical and multimedia productions made him one of the central figures in the black gay cultural arts movement of his time; and as the editor and publisher of several important literary anthologies, he helped to make queerness an important element within the black literary community.

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Saint was born Yves François Lubin in Haiti on October 2, 1957. He was raised by his mother and did not meet his father until he was an adult. He recognized that he was attracted to men when he was seven years old, but did not realize that there was a gay community until he left Haiti and settled in New York.

While visiting his mother in the United States in 1970, he decided to relocate to New York. He enrolled in Queens College in a pre-med curriculum, but soon left to pursue his interests in dance and theater.

It was at this time that Lubin changed his name. The decision to adopt the name of Assotto Saint was an affirmation of the writer's Haitian roots. The word "assotto" identifies a particular type of drum used in voodoo rituals, while "Saint" is a reference to Toussaint L'Ouverture, the former slave who led the revolt against French colonial rule in Haiti at the end of the eighteenth century.

As he explained in the posthumous collection Spells of a Voodoo Doll: The Poems, Fiction, Essays, and Plays of Assotto Saint (1996), the choice of the word "Saint" also implied a sacrilegious sanctification of "the loud low-life bitch that I am." Jana Eva Braziel concludes that the name "Assotto Saint" acquires a political and revolutionary dimension in the context of Haitian history. At the same time, it provides a "diasporic gay revision" of such history by reversing the masculinity associated with Toussaint L'Ouverture through the author's own identification as a "loud low-life bitch."

Saint performed with the Martha Graham Dance Company for several years. In 1980, however, he fell in love with Jaan Urban Holmgren, a Swedish-born composer, with whom he began collaborating on a number of theatrical and musical projects.

With Holmgren, he founded the Metamorphosis Theatre, where he served as artistic director, and Xotika, an arts rock or "techno pop" band. Saint was the band's lead singer, while Holmgren wrote music for the band and for Saint's theater pieces. Xotika's dance song "Forever Gay" was released on the CD Feeding the Flame by Flying Fish Records in 1990.

At the Metamorphosis Theatre, Saint staged performance works about the lives of black gay men, such as Risin' to the Love We Need, New Love Song, Black Fag, and Nuclear Lovers. These works challenge Saint's initial naïve impressions of the United States as a land of sexual freedom and offer alternative images of queerness to the more familiar ones associated with white middle-class homosexuals.

For example, the main character in Risin' to the Love We Need is an aging black drag queen who claims that the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s is as important to her as the gay liberation movement of the 1970s.

Also in the early 1980s Saint began writing and publishing poetry. His work was included in a number of anthologies, including In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology (1986), edited by Joseph Beam, and Gay and Lesbian Poetry in Our Time (1988), edited by Carl Morse and Joan Larkin. He also published a chapbook, Triple Trouble (1987), in which he described himself as "a black queen / dancing with shadows at high noon / triple trouble that's brutal / chasing America's evil spirits away"; and two books of poetry, Stations (1989), a long poem about an interracial relationship, and Wishing for Wings (1994), a collection of poems.

In addition to publishing his own work, he also served as poetry editor for the anthology Other Countries: Black Gay Voices ( 1988) and founded Galiens Press to publish black gay poets. The name "Galiens" was coined to combine the words "Gay" and "Aliens." Among the volumes published by Galiens Press include the Lambda Literary Award-nominated anthology, Here to Dare: A Collection of Ten Gay Black Poets (1992), as well The Road Before Us: 100 Gay Black Poets (1991) and Milking Black Bull: 11 Black Gay Poets (1995).

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