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*Jewelle Gomez was born on this date in 1948. She is a Black lesbian author, poet, critic, and playwright.
Jewelle Lydia Gomez was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Dolores Minor LeClaire, a nurse, and John Gomez, a bartender. Gomez was raised by her maternal great-grandmother, Grace, who was born on Native land in Iowa to an African American mother, Ioway's father. Gomez returned to New England before she was 14 when her father died, and she was married to John E. Morandus, who she claims was half-Black and half-Wampanoag.
Growing up in Boston in the 1950s and 1960s, Gomez was shaped socially and politically by the close family ties with her great-grandmother, Grace, and grandmother, Lydia. Their history of independence, as well as marginalization in an African American community, are referenced throughout her work. "Grace A." from the collection Don't Explain is an early example. During her high school and college years, Gomez was involved with black political and social movements, reflected in much of her writing.
She spent years in New York City in Black theater, including work with the Frank Silvera Writers Workshop and many years as a stage manager for off-Broadway productions. During this time, Gomez became involved in lesbian feminist activism and magazine publication. She was a member of Conditions, a lesbian feminist literary magazine. Her recent writing has begun to reflect her self-identification as Native American.
Gomez was on the original staff of Say Brother (now Basic Black), one of the first weekly Black television shows (WGBH-TV Boston, 1968), and was on the founding board of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) in 1984. She lived in New York City for 22 years, working in public television, theater, and philanthropy before relocating to the West Coast. Her writing—fiction, poetry, essays, and cultural criticism—has appeared in various outlets, both feminist and mainstream. Her work centers on women's experiences, particularly those of LGBTQ women of color. She has been interviewed for several documentaries focused on LGBT rights and culture.
She authored a play about James Baldwin, Waiting For Giovanni, in 2010, in collaboration with Harry Waters Jr., an actor and professor in the theatre department at Macalester College. Readings have been held in San Francisco at Intersection for the Arts at a seminar on Baldwin at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., at the Yellow Springs Writers Workshop in Ohio, at the AfroSolo Festival, and at the 2009 National Black Theatre Festival. Gomez and Waters were interviewed on the public radio program Fresh Fruit on KFAI by host Dixie Trechel in 2008. The segment also includes two short readings from the script.
Gomez wrote the play Leaving the Blues, about singer Alberta Hunter, which premiered in 2017 at San Francisco's New Conservatory Theatre Center. Formerly the executive director of the Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State University, she has also had a long career in philanthropy. She was the director of Cultural Equity Grants at the San Francisco Arts Commission and the director of the Literature Program for the New York State Council on the Arts. She is currently the Director of Grants and Community Initiatives for Horizons Foundation. She formerly served as the President of the San Francisco Public Library Commission.