The papers of African American poet, activist, lesbian, feminist Pat Parker have just arrived at the Schlesinger Library and will be open to researchers when processed. Parker’s poetry explodes with a gritty honesty that prompted feminist scholar and poet Adrian Oktenberg to declare her “the poet laureate of the Black and Lesbian peoples.” An unflinching anecdotal and autobiographical poet, Parker’s poems tell the story of her life, which ended much too soon when she died of breast cancer in 1989.
Parker’s work is a bridge between the black arts movement and radical lesbian-feminism and her papers will offer crucial insight into both groups. Her collections of poetry (Child of Myself, Pit Stop, Womanslaughter, Movement in Black, and Jonestown & Other Madness) were all published with iconic feminist presses including Shameless Hussy Press, Women’s Press Collective, Diana Press, and Firebrand Press. In addition to documenting the evolution of her poetry and the women’s print movement, Parker’s papers include extensive personal correspondence with key writers and public intellectuals, including June Jordan, whose papers are also at the Schlesinger Library, and Audre Lorde. Correspondence between Parker and her family offer a window into the life of a Texas African American family. Other papers document Parker’s engagement with the black power movement, her early marriages to playwright Ed Bullins and poet Bob Parker, and her committed lesbian relationships, and offer insight into Parker as a lesbian mother, her activism, and her trip to Africa in 1985, which had a profound effect on her writing.
A year after Parker’s death, feminist author Lyndie Brimstone, writing in Feminist Review, described Parker as
this loud and rich-mouthed poet who planted her feet firmly on platforms all over America and demanded that her audiences, whoever they may be, pay attention, was not only working class, she was Black and lesbian: the very first to refuse to compromise and speak openly from her undiluted experience.
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