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 Ted Joans

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Brief Bio

Ted Joans was born in Cairo, Illinois, on 4 July 1928, to African American entertainers working on Mississippi riverboats. He says that by the age of thirteen, he had learned to play the trumpet as well as the crowd and otherwise to fend for himself after his father's death in the Detroit Riot of 1943.

Upon earning a bachelor's degree in painting at Indiana University (1951), he headed for New York, where his studio/apartment soon became a famous salon and party site. With other New York bohemians, he attended the New School for Social Research, but the extracurricular activities of Greenwich Village and, increasingly, of Harlem's Black Arts movement, were his preferred teaching and learning venues.

After marrying and fathering four children (three of them sons, bio-blurbs remind, with heroic African surnames), he departed conventional life entirely, in order, experientially and textually, to break and reformulate habits of music, art, sex, and politics. His friends and cohorts included Bob Kaufman, the then LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Jack Kerouac, John Coltrane, Stokely Carmichael, and Allen Ginsberg; the last, according to Joans, turned him from painting to performing his jazz, Beat, and revolutionary poetry at clubs, public readings, and as a "Rent-a-Beatnik" jazzman before well-paying private art consumers.

A well-known black expatriate, Joans initially bypassed Europe and went straight to the Motherland in the early 1960s. Timbuktu became his home base, but he traveled around much of the world-a boho hobo and proud of it-doing poetry readings, writing jazz criticism, creating "happenings" as such events came to be called. He exchanged ideas with the leading figures of surrealism, hung out with Jack Kerouac, met an admiring Malcolm X, broke bread with Afro-Cuban painter Wifredo Lam and African American painter Bob Thompson, swapped bread tales with singer and hustler "Babs" Gonzalez, and played invisible man when the invites came with no bread. In recent years, he lived and traveled with his companion/compatriot, artist Laura Corsiglia Joans.

Joans's mantra was "Jazz is my religion and surrealism is my point of view." While Andre Breton acknowledged Joans as the only African-American surrealist he ever met, Joans' main man was Langston Hughes. There are echoes of Hughes in Joans's poems and his performance style. In his best known poem, "The Truth," he warns us not to fear the poets among us, for they speak the truth; they are our seers, clairvoyants, and visionaries. Joans also knew that speaking truth is a dangerous thing-he called one series of poems "hand grenades" since they were intended to "explode on the enemy and the unhip." While his topics ranged from love, poverty, and Africa to the blues and rhinos, all of his writing, like his life, was a relentless revolt.

During the early 1980s Joans was a writer in residence in Berlin, Germany, under the auspices of the DAAD (Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst) program. He was a contributor of jazz essays and reviews to magazines such as Coda and Jazz Magazine. His autobiographical text "Je Me Vois" appeared in the Contemporary Authors Autobiographical Series, Volume 25, published by Gale Research. His work has been included in numerous anthologies.

In the late 1990s Joans relocated to Seattle and resided there and in Vancouver, between travels, until 2003. He was the recipient of the American Book Awards Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001, from the Before Columbus Foundation.

Ted Joans died in Vancouver, British Columbia, due to complications from diabetes. At the time of his death, Joans had fathered 10 children and named one of his daughters Daline, after Salvador Dalí. ;

Poems - 5 in all

Ted Joans

"The Sax Bit"
I, Too, at the Beginning

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