Essex Hemphill - Nominee

1957 - 1995

Born in Chicago, Hemphill grew up in Washington, DC where he was at the heart of an African American gay and lesbian literary and performance renaissance during the 1980s and 90s. His poetry evoked the challenges of being black, gay and young in the midst of the AIDS epidemic – articulating the anger, despair, and commitment of his generation; his critiques of homophobia and heterosexism within the Black community, of sexism among black men and of racism among gay whites served as reminders that being oppressed does not mean one is unable to oppress others. Hemphill sought to examine how sexuality is impacted upon and influenced by racism, allowing neither his sexuality nor his race to define him. He argued that “…homo sex did not constitute a whole life nor did it negate my racial identity …” and challenged himself to “…integrate all of my identities into a functioning self, instead of accepting a dysfunctional existence as the consequence of my homosexual desires.” Probably the most profound and provocative thinker of his generation – he was prominently featured in the films Tongues Untied (1989), Looking for Langston (1988) and Black Is…Black Ain’t (1994) and the anthologies In The Life (1986) and Brother to Brother (1991) – Hemphill gave voice and metaphor to the lives of African American gay men. He died in 1995 due to AIDS-related illnesses.

Lesson Plan


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity African American Black

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch AIDS Era (1980-present) Information Age (1970-present) Post-Stonewall Era (1974-1980)

Field(s) of Contribution

Advocacy & Activism

Art, Music, Literature & Theater

Social Sciences

US History



Social Justice

Commemorations & Honors

Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men's Anthologies for Brother to Brother: New Writing By Black Gay Men (1991)

Stonewall Book Award-Barbara Gittings Literature Award (1993)

National Library Association's Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual New Author Award Recipient For Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry (1993)

Pew Charitable Trust Fellowship in the Arts For Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry (1993)

National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall National Monument Inductee (2019)


Related Videos

Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS Co-Editor Philip Clark Reads …


Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell