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Assotto Saint & Jan Holmgren

Assotto Saint (October 2, 1957 - June 29, 1994) was a poet, dancer with the Martha Graham company, and playwright. He appeared in Marlon Riggs' No Regrets.

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 queer 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.

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.


Assotto Saint, 1987, by Robert Giard
Assotto Saint (born Yves François Lubin) was a poet, dancer with the Martha Graham Company, and playwright. Jan Holmgren was a composer for theatrical works of Saint and his companion of 13 years. Saint was known for his acting up and acting out: at fellow black gay poet Donald W. Woods's funeral, Saint openly confronted the family for their hypocritical elision of Woods's gayness; outraged, especially since Woods had fought to end the repressive forms of silence that equal death for gay individuals and AIDS victims, Saint stood up and "testified" on his brother's behalf.
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digitallibrary/giard.html)

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).

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).

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 homophobia 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.

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 June 29, 2012
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.
Entry Copyright © 2011 glbtq, Inc.

Donald W. Woods (1958 - June 25, 1992), the head of an AIDS education organization and a former museum official, died of cardiac arrest on June 25, 1992, at New York Hospital in Manhattan. He was 34 years old and lived in Brooklyn.

Mr. Woods was the executive director of AIDS Films, a nonprofit company that produces AIDS education and prevention movies, and had worked there for the last two years.

Before that, he was the public affairs director of the Brooklyn Children's Museum for five years.

He was also active in other organizations, including Art Against Apartheid, the Other Countries Cultural Foundation, the Hetrick-Martin Institute for gay and lesbian youth and the Brooklyn Arts Council.

Mr. Woods was one of several authors of "Tongues Untied," a documentary by Marlon T. Riggs about black gay men that was shown on PBS. He also appeared in another film by Mr. Riggs, "No Regrets."

Mr. Woods was born in Queens. He earned a bachelor's degree at the New School of Social Research and did postgraduate study in arts administration.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/1992/06/29/obituaries/donald-w-woods-34-aids-film-executive.html
Assotto Saint was known for his acting up and acting out: at fellow black gay poet Donald W. Woods's funeral, Saint openly confronted the family for their hypocritical elision of Woods's gayness; outraged, especially since Woods had fought to end the repressive forms of silence that equal death for gay individuals and AIDS victims, Saint stood up and "testified" on his brother's behalf. Saint's acting up, like Woods's life, was memorialized in a short story entitled "The Final Inning" written by the Jamaican American black gay writer Thomas Glave and published in his story collection Whose Song?, which won the O. Henry Award for Fiction. --Artists, Performers, and Black Masculinity in the Haitian Diaspora by Jana Evans Braziel

Donald W. Woods, 1987, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1124096)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digitallibrary/giard.html)



Jan Holmgren (April 25, 1939, Alno, Sweden - March 29, 1993, New York, New York) was a composer for theatrical works of Assotto Saint, his companion of 13 years.

Jan Holmgren began writing music at age ten. After a tour of duty in the Swedish Army, he received musical education in Sweden and immigrated to the United States in 1965. He worked as a flight attendant for American Airlines for 25 years.

In 1980, Holmgren became lovers with the Haitian-American poet, writer and performer Assotto Saint (born Yves F. Lubin) (1957-1994), who also died of AIDS. Together they collaborated on a variety of artistic creations. Holmgren wrote songs for all of Saint's many theatre pieces on gay black life which they produced themselves for their Metamorphosis Theatre. They formed a "techno pop duo band," Xotika, for which Saint was lead singer. Xotika's dance song "Forever Gay" was released on the CD Feeding the Flame by Flying Fish Records in 1990.

Holmgren is usually credited as a composer under the names: Jaan Urban or Jan Urban.

Jan Holmgren died of AIDS in New York at the age of 53 on March 29, 1993. —Joseph Dalton



Source: http://www.artistswithaids.org/artforms/music/catalogue/holmgren.html

Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1500563323
ISBN-13: 978-1500563325
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
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Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher


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Tags: activist: donald w. woods, author: assotto saint, author: donald w. woods, days of love, musician: jan holmgren, particular voices
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