Black LGBT Pioneers You Should Know
BY Michelle Garcia
February 28 2013 8:00 AM ET
Essex Hemphill first took to poetry as a Washington, D.C., teenager and didn't stop. In 1985 and 1986, Hemphill self-published his first books, but truly gained national attention when he appeared in the seminal anthology In The Life, a collection of writing by black, gay men in 1986. Thereafter, his poems were featured in two award-winning documentaries, Tongues Untied and Looking for Langston. Hemphill became known for his no-holds-barred handling of HIV/AIDS, race, and identity. He went on to win Lambda Literary Awards, and he was named a visiting scholar for the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in 1993. In the midst of a conservative Congress cracking down on publicly funded arts programs, he was named a fellow for the National Endowment for the Arts and received grants from the Pew Charitable Trust. In 1995, Hemphill died due to complications from AIDS.