Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Remembering Don Belton

Don BeltonI must admit that I'm still in a bit of shock at the news, passed on Blabbeando via Twitter this afternoon, that writer and professor Don Belton (left, Indiana University English Department website) was found stabbed to death in his apartment in Bloomington, Indiana. I'd only just seen Don this past spring, at the Associate Writing Programs conference, in Chicago, and we'd chatted a bit, about his fairly new job at Indiana University, life, and a few other things. I realized I hadn't heard his soft voice, his gentle laugh, and his always kind words in so long, and I was delighted that I'd run into him. We said we'd be in touch, and as so often happens, though I did think about him from time to time, I figured we'd run into each other at some place or another, most likely Fire & Ink III, in Austin. It was a while since I'd seen him; perhaps the last time before this spring was at another conference some years back, and that tended to be where we ran into each other, though I've known him for at least two decades dating back to the time that I was a member of the Dark Room Writers Collective.

At that time, Don was already a published writer and known in the literary world; his wonderful novel, Almost Midnight, had appeared in 1986, and it heralded a new wave of works, including anthologies and volumes of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and drama, by black gay male writers. His novel in particular was important to me as a young writer, much as Randall Kenan's first one was; the assurance of the voice, the daring subject matter, and the fact that this young writer had produced it were all tremendous inspirations. Don subsequently edited Speak My Name (1989), a volume of writings by black men, across sexualities, on masculinity, and it's perhaps the book by which he's best known. He taught a several different institutions; for years, I believe, he was living and teaching in Minnesota at Macalester College, and also taught at the University of Michigan and Penn. Don was incredibly smart, and very much in the vein of figures like Samuel Delany and Melvin Dixon, or Thomas Glave and Randall Kenan, creative writers who can also drop critical and scholarly science. His knowledge field ranged from contemporary film and visual art to American and African American literary and cultural studies, and he had lectured all over the globe, including in Paris, São Paulo, and Abidjan. Amid the writing, teaching and travel there was the daily living, and I can't say what Don was up to for most of the years we knew each other, but I do recall asking people from time to time where he was and what he was doing, and hoping that he was okay and finding a place where he might flourish.

It is especially heartbreaking to learn, therefore, that he is now taken away from us, and in so brutal and inhumane a manner. He was only 53. I cannot help but think of all of the black gay male creative and critical talents who have gone well before their time; when I was in my 20s and 30s, handfuls, in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and older, were taken out by HIV/AIDS, heart attacks, cancer, and mental illness. Last year, another very talented figure, Lindon Barrett, was murdered in his home, and Reginald Shepherd, a brilliant poet, died of cancer. Both were in their 40s. I cannot express how saddening these losses are; it's like a silent, ghostly war is raging alongside the many ones we see every day and cannot stop, no matter how hard we try, and I feel like they have marked the entire adult years of my generation. Recently I answered a few questions for a younger writer about Melvin Dixon, who died in 1992 at the age of 42, and I'll link to his blog when he posts my responses, but in lieu of that, I think Melvin's moving appeal from his final appearance at OutWrite, would be as apt for Don and so many others: "Remember me, remember my name."

Rod 2.0, one of the most informative news sources out, has more information on the case.

Reggie H. posts his incredibly informative and thoughtful article on Don at the Noctuary.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, John. I met Don Belton for the first time this year, also at AWP (like meeting you, too, finally!). He was all you described; a very sweet, smart man.