04 February 2008

Safe Journeys, Dearest Vincent


What does it mean to heal, from betrayal by those who have often stood closest to us, to heal from the burdens of the past, to heal our insulted humanity, to heal from the belief that we are not holy and imbued with sacred function? And at what cost do we ignore our fatigue, deeply repressed angers, the bleeding absence of love, our silenced stories? We can and should talk and share and support one another, but the first order of business is relearning how to love and care for our individual selves/our souls. This is our primary sacred task and, as well, our road to liberation.

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Cave Canem Remembers Vincent Woodard (1971-2008) (PDF)

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UPDATE
Sunday, Feb 24 @ 1230 - 130pm
A Celebration of Vincent Woodard (d. 2008)
Brownstone Books
409 Lewis Avenue
Between Macdonough and Decatur Streets in Bed- Stuy, Brooklyn, New York
(A/C to Utica Avenue)

There will be small bites and juice. There will be time and space for readings, reflections, and creations to share. Please direct all questions to Andre Lancaster (andre@freedomtrainproductions.org).

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I received the sad news today of the passing of Vincent Woodard, a fellow Cave Canem Fellow, University of Colorado faculty member, and one of the gentlest -- yet fiercest -- men I've ever met.

Vincent's critical/academic work explored issues of sexuality and gender in African American studies. But to me his real work was Spiritual. His readings and performances were more like revivals, visitations of the spirits, than what we usually think of as 'readings.' Relatively straightforward recitations would suddenly turn into incantations, sermons, divinations. His body and voice would shake as if possessed by the words, or the spirit of the words, he was the vessel for. "Moving" doesn't even come close to the experience of hearing him perform. The man could shake you to your foundations without seeming to break a sweat. Many of us remember him as someone who seemed made more of Light than of Flesh, radiating peace, wisdom, and a great deal of strength and courage.

And, yes, I think I fell a little in love with him when we first met. How could anyone resist such an Angel? I will miss his dear, beautiful soul.

The quotes above and belwo are from Vincent's essay in AIDS Project LA's Think Again. In typical Woodard style (The complete journal here in PDF format) the article 'transgresses' with style, discussing things some in our community would rather not talk about, and mixes critique with memory, fiction with non fiction, poetry with essay.


A powerful tradition of witnessing exists within black traditional religious practices dating back to slavery. In the context of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and the Civil Rights era, witnessing was the way that black people affirmed the enspirited, boundless humanity that gave them the courage and power to overcome. Somebody stood up, in a church, in a field, down by a riverside, and told a story, their story, or perhaps a story that had been passed on to them, and the onlookers sat there, stood there, taking it, making it more real, through the act of witnessing. Too often, black gay lives exist between the chasm of wanting to be witnessed for and a silence that chokes down the voice. I know this silence is real. I battle it, hunt after it every day. I search for names for this silence so that I can call it out, march it to the stand, turn to the jury and make them acknowledge that too many black gays die from longing, invisibility, slow calculated suicides, addiction and numerous other forms of soul murder.

The power and legacy of the witnessing tradition demands, though, that we look through and beyond these deaths to the glory and the lessons they have left, like a pyre of ceremonial ashes painting our naked bodies in circles and blood. If I reach inside my stomach and pull out a story to tell you, it would be the springtime, dragonfly tears, a ripening of pines, oak trees and lost souls wanting to return, wanting to be witnessed.



UPDATE

Many thanks to Professor E. Patrick Johnson for this note on Vincent's papers and publishing projects

Dear All:

I know that there was a lot of discussion about Vincent's papers. I can tell you that his book manuscript was under contract at NYU Press and the press is still committed to publishing it. Vincent provided instructions before he passed with regard to getting the manuscript revised. The good thing is that NYU has the rights to the manuscript because of the signed contract, so the family has no say in that. He did not have a will and it is still unclear what the family will do with his other papers and his poetry, but Vincent did ask one of his colleagues at the University of Colorado to make sure that they were preserved.

This is all I have been able to find out, but I'll provide news as it becomes available.

E. Patrick Johnson
Chair & Director of Graduate Studies
Department of Performance Studies
Professor, African American Studies
Northwestern University

26 comments:

evie said...

thanks so much for this, reggie. i feel unable to say much that could do justice to vincent's life or the memorial you've written for him here. i will just add that i think of him as a Guide. and i'm glad that his writing exists to guide us still.

peace.

Tayari Jones said...

dear reggie,
i never met vincent but we was well loved by so many whom i love.... blessings to him and to you and everyone who never got to meet him.

ReggieH said...

Posting this on behalf of poet John Murillo (www.myspace.com/johnmurillo):

hey reggie,

i tried to post a comment on your page, but had trouble logging on. here's what i had to say:

big reg,

you're right. he was a cool cool cat. i met him in 04 at a workshop i took in arizona. damn good poet. so good, i thought i'd hip him to this thing i was a part of called 'cave canem.' he was gracious, letting me know in that smoove vincent way, 'young buck, i've been where you're trying to go.' not
in those words, of course. but he was fam.

there was this one night when he, aracelis, and i went for drinks at this saloon (think eddie murphy in that cowboy bar in '48 hours.'). we walk in and all the cowboys and cowgirls turn and give us the ill gas face. i'm ready to leave, but not vincent. he walked over to the jukebox, and dropped mad coinage, choosing every black song they had. and for the whole two hours we were there, it was all marvin gaye, al green, bob marley, temptations. (don't ask what they were doing in the 'get a rope' saloon. but there they were.) vincent when in and took the joint over on the humble. and for those two hours, it was almost like being on 125th street
or georgia ave. (almost.) good damn dude, man!

he'll be missed, fa'sho.

peace,

jm

BronzeBuckaroo said...

I envy you having had the good fortune to know this man. He comes across in this post as fierce, but loving.

Mendi O. said...

I wish I did know Vincent, but what a voice, what a face. I mourn with those of you who knew him. And Reggie, I think I've told you before that I believe a kind of energy is released when a person dies, and that when you share something of that person with new people, you are doing the most sacred work. So I thank you. Keep on. M

Lisa C. Moore said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lisa C. Moore said...

Thank you, Reggie, for such a beautifully written tribute to Vincent.

Vincent and I shared an office during grad school at University of Texas at Austin; we had lots of long conversations, and continued, sporadically, to connect after graduation. In 2003, I remember telling him that I was being followed by crows (long story, but the short of it was there were three crows that showed up everywhere I went). Vincent, in his natural, spiritual way, gave me an impromptu reading and said that crows are shape-shifters, and messengers, and were there to tell me this: "Your jewel can't come out if you spend your time helping others with theirs."

For somebody who helps others get their written work out, those were scary words. He said, "You need to be protective. You're very empathic. People see it in you and want it; they take it. It's very different from those you *choose* to help."

I just dug those notes out (because every time I talked to Vincent, I had to take notes!).

I leave you with this excerpt from an essay he sent me in 2004:

"My body has always resonated to another time and place. In many pre-colonial, traditional African cultures male children who demonstrated a particular quality of spirt, neither male nor female, were given the choice of wearing the dress of women or men, doing the work of women or men. Their spirits (interior life force), not their sexual practice, determined who they were and the oftentimes significant roles they played in the tribe or group. These people, who stand behind me now, invisible, waiting for their stories to be told, were the healers, shamans, leaders, and teachers, always and before the invention of Western time. ...

"It's impossible to say when I first felt them. Touching me, like wind or a sun-hand brushing across my face. Dancing with me in the in-between waking and sleeping state. Healing my heart and filling me with a vision of home for my family, for black people, for the world. Giving me the courage to speak spirit truth into a power that might heal me and connect me with souls of my kind. ...

"What does it mean, standing on this side of the Atlantic, to be a newtime gatekeeper, wanakani, omasenge-kimbanda? What does it mean to stand between a Western notion of time and an ancestral past more real than the wind upon my face? It means that I have a very old and new responsibility, as one who was born remembering. ..."
© 2004 Vincent Woodard

Vincent, you are where you need to be, again. Much respect and love...

Lisa

John K said...

Reggie,

I didn't know Vincent, because I was a phantom '97 person, as you recall, but your tribute and others' comments on here invoke him beautifully. Thanks for the tribute and for keeping his name and words in our hearts.

Martha Ramos Duffer said...

The magnitude of the loss of Vincent goes beyond words. The tragedy is so complex and generates so many thoughts and feelings. For now, I will focus on what a gift to have been touched by such a brilliant beautiful spirit. I am humbled, reminded and grateful. I know he is joining the spirits of the ancestors he brought to us. He taught us the only thing beyond illusion is love.

BLUE said...

Reggie:

thank you so much for posting this. it is good to connect with Vincent's legacy this way. i had breakfast with him once at a CC reunion gathering in Philadelphia during one of the Black Writers Weekends ... but that *once* is all it took to know i was in the presence of a great (((Spirit))). such a brief encounter so full of ...

light!

~blue

Michael said...

Reggie,

Thanks for using this forum in this special way.

I met Vincent during his active participation in community-building among same-gender loving African-American men in Denver, starting in 2005. For me, his presence was alternately calming and electrifying. Often he gave voice to ideas and issues that others, including me, initially seemed content not to engage. His ability to facilitate discussion was a skill that he applied effectively in diverse settings.

Fully one year ago, Vincent and I pledged to meet for lunch ... but, sadly, never did. Therein is a harsh lesson I hope to retain the rest of my life.

I am optimistic that Vincent is at peace.

Michael

Anonymous said...

I am Vincent's aunt. Vincent was a brillliant young man with wisdom that far exceeded many of us. I remember Vincent as a happy, playful, extremely smart little boy that loved chicken noodle soup. Vincent has certainly left a mark on all who knew him as well as those that did not know him. His work will impact the world forever. Vincent is at piece

Aunt Della

Anonymous said...

I am Vincent's Cousin, Dana. Della is my mother. She raised me in the San Francisco, Bay Area, away from closed and narrow minds and I thank her dearly for it. I grew up with Vincent as a little one (until about 8) and occasionally saw him throughtout the years.


I would often hear and read about all of the wonderful things that Vincent was doing, his poetry, his play, his publications etc. and I was always so proud, intrigued and excited for him.


I say this:
In a lifetime one finds few individuals of pure brilliance and so often we are allowed a small amount of time with them on this earth.


Vincent, I will miss you and your brilliance


Dana

Jen Williams said...

This is truly a great loss. Vincent and I were in the English department together at The University of Texas. He is one of the most brilliant and talented souls I have met. It's comforting that he will be remembered by so many of us.

Anonymous said...

Hello Colleagues and Friends of Vincent,

I would like to apologize for the carelessness of Vincent's family for not notifying you of his funeral.

It will be held on February 16, 2008, 10:00am at:
Bethesda Community Baptist Church
906 E. Jones St.
Phoneix, AZ 85040
(602) 276-1006

I can be reached at (415) 265-3815 if there are any questions. If you text me, I can get back to you sooner.

Thank you, Dana Lewis

Kamilah Aisha said...

thank you Reggie, for letting all of us witness here, remember outloud and to each other Vincent's words, voice, divining spirit, overall light...feels like the world is losing many too soon lately. brilliant, beautiful,
compassionate man--if jimmy baldwin had a son, yeah. he encouraged me--a stranger but a sistah to him immediately, at Moonstone/Robin's bookstore in Philly circa ten years ago, when i was brand new to this world of working writers and living in my complete truth, fiercely. infinite love and peaceful passage, Vincent.

Andre said...

On Wednesday 9/12/2001, a couple of poets speaking fire shook a little bookstore off of South Congress in Austin, Texas. One of those poets was Vincent.

I can't say that I remember his exact words, but I do remember the spirit that he evoked: passion, anger, love. Vincent was always on the front lines of art and activism, whether it be to protest W.'s re-election as Texas Govenor on the steps of capital or at open mics at Gaby and Mo's, he was there alright, with fire and spirit, shaking the earth.

You are my brother, Vincent, who I have always looked up to.

Love,

Andre

p.s. Any NYC ppl who read this, please contact me (andre@freedomtrainproductions.org). I'm going to have a small re-memory of Vincent in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn soon.

Rachel said...

Dear Friends,

I am only today receiving news of Vincent's passing. Reggie, I found your powerful tribute to Vincent through John K's site. I am so glad I found it. I met Vincent at Cave Canem and he was an essential friend to me through several years. I remember being deeply impressed, over and over again, by the way he used the alchemical skill of his life and his writing to transform traumas into something salvific. Something that, instead of destroying us, could be remade into a source of strength. He was an extraordinary man. Yes, Reggie -- both gentle and fierce. I loved him very much.

The University of Colorado at Boulder is holding a memorial service for him, hosted by the English department, at 4pm on Wednesday, February 20th. At the Koenig Alumni Center near the corner of Broadway and University. I'll be there and I hope to post something here after the ceremony.

Peace,

Rachel H.

Rachel said...

Dear Folks,

Vincent Woodard's memorial in Colorado was wonderful. His friends and colleagues at the university organized a very much appreciated opportunity for folks to share remembrances and stories of Vincent. His mother and brother came up from Arizona. Most of the people present were people who had known Vincent only in very recent years, so the range of memories lacked some of what CC folks could have brought to the occasion. But it was GREAT to be among so many people who loved and cared about him.

It was especially good to know that he wasn't alone at the end. He had family and friends who accompanied him through the last weeks and his younger brother was with him, in the hospital room, standing at the foot of the bed, when Vincent drew his final breath.

I'm really glad to know about the gathering in NYC on Feb 24th to celebrate Vincent's life. I wish I could be there too.

For anyone who is interested, there will be another memorial at UT Austin on March 21st. Sponsored by the English department. That was Vincent's grad alma mater. For more info, people can contact his dissertation advisor, Dr. Helena Woodard (no relation to Vincent, at least not that she has yet discovered) at hwood@mail.utexas.edu.

Peace, everybody.

Rachel

Anonymous said...

If you want to see a beautiful tribute to Vincent Woodard created by his cousin Andre Hayward, go to vincentwoodard.blogspot.com.

Kelly said...

I knew Vincent from CU. For two short years, from 2003-2005 he was my mentor and spiritual guide. I have only just learned of his passing and have blogged my last respects to him: http://krawson.livejournal.com/

I am grateful to hear all of the ways that he has touched your lives, as he has mine.

All best.

Anonymous said...
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ruth-e said...

Reggie ... I know you wrote this article a while back, but it's been two years now, and I have been coming back, thinking of Vincent, trying to find anything I can on him ...

I miss him ... I miss him a lot.

Vincent was one of the reasons I came to the University of Colorado at Boulder. His spirit was so grand. I remember during my interview dinner, when everyone asks that polite question 'Oh, would you like a taste' of the dish set before them ... Vincent always said, "Yes!" ... he ate from everyone's plate as though we were family. And he offered up his own as though he were family.

I remember him dancing with a friend at a small pub during reggae night. She had come to town and I wasn't feeling well. He made sure she had a good time. And he made sure everyone on the floor had a good time.

I miss him. I miss him a lot ...

Anonymous said...

I met Vincent in Austin, Tx. I had opportunity and privilege to share with him many moments, long talkings, smiles, hugs and loving kisses. He pulled my legs many times, how much I loved it… Fortunately I told it to him many times ... after I came back home we lost contact, I did not remembered his last name… but sometimes he popped in my mind… Today, was not looking for it but I found his full name written in an old paper ..... I searched for contact him at the net and found this place ... I am very sad, I am sorry…. I still love him, I will love forever.

Anonymous said...

Eu conheci Vincent em Austin, Tx. Eu tive oportunidade e privilégio de compartilhar com ele muitos momentos, talkings longa, sorrisos, abraços e beijos de amor. Ele puxou minhas pernas, muitas vezes, o quanto eu amei ... Felizmente eu disse a ele muitas vezes ... depois voltei para casa, perdemos contato, eu não lembrava seu sobrenome ... mas às vezes ele apareceu na minha mente ... Hoje, não estava procurando por ele, mas eu achei seu nome completo escrito em um papel velho ..... Procurei contato com ele na net e encontrei este lugar ... Estou muito triste, sinto muito .... Eu ainda o amo, eu te amarei para sempre.

ReggieH said...

Thank you/Obrigado so much "Anonymous" for your moving comments about our Vincent. All of us who had the joy of meeting him will never forget him and his lovely soul.

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