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Wed, 07.04.1928

Ted Joans, ‘Spoken Word’ Artist born

Ted Joans

Ted Joans was born on this date in 1928. He was a Black painter, trumpeter, and jazz poet.

From Illinois, He studied trumpet, sang bebop, and earned a B.A. in Fine Arts from Indiana University before moving to Greenwich Village in New York City in 1951. He was one of the first Beat poets and authored over 30 poetry, prose, and collage books, including Black Pow-Wow, Beat Funky Jazz Poems, Afrodisia, Jazz is Our Religion, Double Trouble, Wow, and Teducation.

Joans was an original for bringing jazz and "spoken word" together on stage. When his former roommate, Charlie Parker, died in 1955, Joans began scrawling "Bird Lives!" all over Lower Manhattan.  A well-known Black expatriate, Joans went straight to the Motherland in the early 1960s. Timbuktu became his home base, but he traveled worldwide, doing poetry readings and writing jazz criticism.

He exchanged ideas with some of the leading figures of the day: Jack Kerouac, Malcolm X, Wifredo Lam, Bob Thompson, and others. Joans’s mantra was, "Jazz is my religion, and surrealism is my point of view." While his topics ranged from love, poverty, and Africa to the blues and rhinos, his writing, like his life, was a persistent revolution.  In 1968, Joans brought out his "Black Flower" statement. This surrealist manifesto 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.

In 2000, he and his partner Laura moved to Canada after the acquittal of the officers who fatally shot Amadou Diallo; he vowed not to reside in the United States again. Ted Joans died in his apartment in Vancouver, Canada, on May 7, 2003.

"So in my rather sorrowful impecunious state," he had written not long before his death, "I find myself filled to the beautiful brim with love, and with this shared love, I continue to live my poem-life." When he died, he had no money, suffered from diabetes, and survived by reading poetry and selling his papers to libraries.  He had just completed his "Collaged Autobiography," a remarkable memoir waiting for the right publisher.

To be a Writer

To be an Artist




Photo, Larry Keenan,

by Ted Joans,
Illustrations by Laura Corsiglia.
Mukilteo, WA:
Quicksilver/Quartermoon Press, 1999

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