Essex Hemphill, a poet and performer known for his politics and activism, was born in Chicago and raised in Washington D.C., where he produced much of his artistic output. His work openly confronts and discusses race, identity, sexuality, living with HIV/AIDS, and the nature of community, giving, in particular, voice to issues central to the African American gay community. From the early 80s till his death in 1995 Hemphill was a major part of what some termed a second Harlem Renaissance, and one of the few authors openly examining what it meant to be both black and gay during the 80s and early 90s. Hemphill’s first collections of poems were self-published chapbooks, and he later produced full-length books of poetry and works of performance, such as Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men, a 1991 anthology of works by about three dozen authors. Brother to Brother, the essay for which this anthology was named, was started by Joseph F. Beam but finished after Beam’s death by Hemphill and Beam’s mother, and featured as the centerpiece behind Hemphill’s 1989 performance of the same title at The Kitchen.
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