Joans earned his B.F.A. from Indiana University and moved to Greenwich Village in 1951. According to historian Robin D.G. Kelley, he "was one of the original Beat poets, though you wouldn't know it from most Beat anthologies. He was the author of over 30 books of poetry, prose, and collage, including Black Pow-Wow, Beat Funk Jazz Poems, Afrodisia, Jazz Is Our Religion, Double Trouble, Wow and Teducation." Kelley calls Joans the "grandaddy of bringing jazz and 'spoken word' together on the bandstand." In the early 1960s, Joans made Timbuktu his home base and traveled the world doing poetry readings and creating "happenings." He also lived in Tangiers, Morocco and Paris, France.
Joans was also a surrealist. Kelley writes, “Joans’ mantra was ‘Jazz is my religion and surrealism is my point of view.’” He describes Joans' “Black Flower” (1968) statement, as “a surrealist manifesto that envisioned a movement of black people in the U.S. bringing down American imperialism from within with the weapon of poetic imagery, ‘black flowers’ sprouting all over the land.” Kelley adds that “all his writing, like his life, was a relentless revolt."
Joans and his companion, artist Laura Corsiglia, moved to Vancouver in 2001, after the acquittal of the New York City police officers who fatally shot Amadou Diallo; he vowed never to live in the United States again. Joans died in Vancouver in May 2003. When jazz great Charlie Parker, his former roommate, died in 1955, Joans wrote “Bird Lives!” on the streets of Lower Manhattan.” Kelley reports that “A few poets in the know have already left chalked salutes in the streets. Let the Village know: ‘Ted Lives!’
-- M. Bryer
Quotes were taken from Robin D.G. Kelley's obituary for Ted Joans, which appeared in The Village Voice, May 20, 2003. Kelley (my favorite historian) is Professor of History, American Studies and Ethnicity at USC. His many books include Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression and Race Rebels: Culture Politics and the Black Working Class. His biography of jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk will be published in Fall 2009.
Photos: Top Row, Left: Reading in Amsterdam Artist Club, photo and copyright, Nico van der Stam; Top Row, Right: "Hipster Book Signing"; Second Row, Left: "Compromised Character of Colored Contemporary Co-Op Amateur Artist, Southern Indiana Branch"; Second Row, right: Joans, with Ruth Kligman ("The Liz Taylor of Bohemia") and William de Kooning; Third Row, Left: Joans and poet Don L. Lee, "An automatic poet-chant, 'We Have Come Back, First Pan African Cultural Festival in Algeria, performed with indigenous Algerians"; Third Row, Right: "Avec J.P. Sartre"; Bottom: Stokely Carmichael, Princess Sierra Leone. All captions were written by Ted Joans.
The Ted Joans papers (BANC MSS 99/244) contain manuscript material, including many unpublished poems, and personal and professional correspondence with friends and colleagues, including Amiri Baraka, Stokely Carmichael, Diane di Prima, Bob Kaufmann, Ishmael Reed, Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. There are also -- as seen above -- some fabulous photographs. (For more photos, see the Ted Jones photograph albums -- BANC PIC 1999.097)