Both in his published and unpublished writings, Dixon wrote openly about his homosexuality. James Baldwin's influence is seen in Dixon's two novels, "Trouble the Water" (1989, winner of the Nilon Award for Excellence in Minority Fiction) and "Vanishing Rooms" (1991). In the latter, Dixon wrote about homophobia and racism in New York City's Greenwich Village. His first book of poems, "Change of Territory" (1983) spoke of the historic northward migration of African Americans from the southernUnited States and the enforced journeys of African slavery. His final volume of poems, "Love's Instruments" (1995) published after his death from an AIDS-related illness in 1992, serves as a tribute to other gay men withthis disease. As an active spokesman for gay communities and issues, Dixon integrated the complexities of gay identity and lifestyle into his work while communicating what it meant to be a black man.
As a writer, Dixon embraced both scholarship and creativity. He wrote poems, short stories, novels, essays,critical studies, and translations from French. Seeking his literary heritage, he traveled to the Caribbean, Africa and Europe, researching the Haitian poet and novelist Jacques Roumain, Leopold Senghor, the poet and former president of Senegal, and Richard Wright in Paris. His translations include Roumain's poems, Genevieve Fabre's "Drumbeats, Mass, and Metaphor: Contemporary Afro-American Theatre" (1983), and "The Collected Poetry by Leopold Sedar Senghor" (1991). He also wrote a critical study of African-American literature entitled "Ride Out the Wilderness" (1987).
Melvin Dixon & Richard Horovitz AIDS quilt
Melvin Dixon, widely praised as a novelist, translator andliterary critic, published poetry that portrayed both his interior explorations and world travels. Dixon was graduated from Wesleyan University, and earned an MA in 1973 and a Ph.D. in 1975 from Boston University. Richard Allen Horovitz was the executive director of the Panos Institute, a nonprofit organization on environmental issues in Washington. Dixon died of AIDS, a year after his long-term partner Richard Horovitz did.
Melvin Dixon's AIDS quilt
Dixon was an Assistant Professor at Williams College (1976-1980), and a Professor of English at Queens College of the City University of New York (1980-1992). He also taught at the Graduate Center (CUNY), Fordham University and Columbia University. Dixon received a number of awardsand fellowships including a Fulbright lectureship in Senegal (1985-1986). He died of AIDS in his hometown, one year after his long-term partner Richard Horovitz did.
RIchard Horovitz labored in the Dakar field office to "create a space for doing human rights work in Ford's West African initiatives." In addition to his commitment to human rights, Horovitz was known throughout the foundation as a gay man, in part because he openly lived in Dakar with his lover, the African American poet Melvin Dixon. In 1985, Horovitz left his post in West Africa and returned to the New York City headquarters.
Richard Allen Horovitz, former executive director of the Panos Institute, a nonprofit organization that finances international information projects on environmental issues in Washington, died on July 17, 1991, at his summer home in Provincetown, Mass. He was 44 years old and lived in Washington.
Mr. Horovitz died of complications from AIDS, said a spokesman for the family.
Mr. Horovitz was executive director of Panos from July 1989 to February 1991.
From 1976 to 1978 he was a Peace Corps volunteer on the Ivory Coast. He later conducted training programs for volunteers in Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast, where he was a visiting lecturer in African history at the University of Abidjan.
From 1983 to 1987 he was program officer and representative of the Ford Foundation in West Africa. On his return to this country, he helped the Ford Foundation to finance projects for AIDS patients internationally.
Mr. Horovitz was born in Boston and graduated from Middlebury College in 1968. He earned master's and doctoral degrees at Northwestern University.
Melvin Dixon was born May 29, 1950 in Stamford, Connecticut to parents originally from the Carolinas. A Professor of English at Queens College from 1980 to 1992, Dixon was a poet, translator, and novelist whose books include the poetry collection Change of Territory (1983), Ride Out the Wilderness: Geography and Identity in Afro-American Literature (1987), and The Collected Poems of Leopold Sedar Senghor (1990), a translation of poetry by the one-time president of Senegal. His first novel, 1989‘s Trouble the Water, combines Dixon‘s urban upbringing with his family‘s southern roots for a tale featuring his talent for creating the gritty, layered realities and surreal lyricism that would be explored further in Vanishing Rooms.
While the protagonist of the first novel is a married teacher at a celebrated New England college, Jesse Durand in Vanishing Rooms is a young dancer sharing a Greenwich Village apartment with his white lover. The subject of gay biracial relationships was controversial not only during the novel‘s 1970s setting but also at the time of Vanishing Room‘s publication in 1991, and still to the present day. I admit my own hesitation at approaching the subject; disapproval and misunderstanding remain in the minds of many individuals gay and straight. Maybe part of why I read Melvin Dixon‘s book was because at the time I needed some form of validation for my desires, to see an interracial couple explored with the same depth of imagination and complexity as lovers in other works of literature.
Dixon died of AIDS-related complications in 1992 at age 42 (one year after the publication of Vanishing Rooms, the same year Dixon‘s partner Richard Allen Horovitz passed away; the novel is dedicated to him). As with James Baldwin‘s death, Dixon‘s absence leaves an empty space for other brave writers to fill and undertake the still divisive topics brought to light by Dixon and his literary ancestors. That Vanishing Rooms was brought back into print seems to indicate not only that its significance to gay and African American literature has been recognized but also that Jesses and Metros of the present and future will still have this novel as part of their literary heritage, perhaps helping them move beyond the traps of racism and homophobia to a place where they can see each other in unfiltered light.
In his college senior year, Jesse performs a spooky solo to Strange Fruit at the spring dance concert. The next day someone asks him for the meaning of the dance.Then he asked if I wasn‘t really saying something about people ostracized from society, outcast, martyred, some fruit unpicked and rotting in its sugar. I didn‘t know what to say. I promised to think it over. And I promised myself that I‘d keep on dancing no matter how hesitant the applause, how rooted the tree, how strange the fruit.--Ian Rafael Titus for The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered
Melvin Dixon, 1988, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1123771)
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)
Vanishing Rooms: A Novel by Melvin Dixon
Paperback: 211 pages
Publisher: Cleis Press; Reprint edition (June 9, 2001)
Amazon: Vanishing Rooms: A Novel
Prior to Melvin Dixon’s death from AIDS in 1992 when he was on the verge of breaking out as an acclaimed novelist, his talent was compared to that of Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. In Vanishing Rooms, the author amply demonstrates his literary promise with a compelling love story of interracial sex and urban violence set in Manhattan’s West Village in the 1970s.
A Melvin Dixon Critical Reader by Justin A. Joyce & Dwight A. McBride
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: University Press of Mississippi (July 12, 2010)
Amazon: A Melvin Dixon Critical Reader
Over the course of his brief career, Melvin Dixon (1950-1992) became an important critical voice for African American scholarship as well as a widely read chronicler of the African American gay experience. His novels Trouble the Water and Vanishing Rooms still receive considerable attention, as do his collections of poetry and his major work of criticism, Ride Out the Wilderness: Geography and Identity in Afro-American Literature.
In A Melvin Dixon Critical Reader, scholars Justin A. Joyce and Dwight A. McBride have collected, for the first time in a single volume, the eight critical essays Dixon published during his lifetime. The volume divides Dixon's critical output into three categories—"Writing Black Diaspora Theory," "Writing African American Cultural Theory," and "Writing African American Literary Criticism"—and closes with a speech Dixon gave to the queer writers' conference, OutWrite, in 1992, just months before he succumbed to an AIDS-related illness.
What emerges from the essays collected here is the voice of a confident, engaging scholar, who tackles a wide range of literary and cultural topics. Dixon examines the trickster characters of Charles W. Chesnutt, the friendship between the Haitian novelist Jacques Roumain and Langston Hughes, and the aesthetic importance of black speech in the novels of Gayl Jones. His address to OutWrite serves as a poignant record of Dixon's knack to wax elegiac and poetic and to synthesize criticism, activism, and art. The introduction places Dixon in the contexts of African American cultural history and gay/lesbian critical discourse.
Justin A. Joyce is a doctoral candidate in the department of English at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Dwight A. McBride is Leon Forrest Professor and Chair of African American Studies at Northwestern University and the author of Why I Hate Abercrombie & Fitch: Essays on Race and Sexuality in America and Impossible Witnesses: Truth, Abolitionism, and Slave Testimony.
More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices
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