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Wed, 04.10.1935

Steve Cannon, Writer born

Steve Cannon

*On this date, in 1935, Steve Cannon was born.  He was a Black writer and publisher. 

Cannon was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and moved to New York City in 1962. During the civil rights era, he was a member of the Society of Umbra, a collective of Black writers.  Cannon taught humanities at Medgar Evers College, helping to integrate the public school system in New York.  In 1969 Cannon wrote the novel Groove, Bang, and Jive Around, which author Ishmael Reed called the precursor to rap and author Darius James called in the New York Press "an underground classic of such legendary stature that New York's black cognoscenti have transformed the work into an urban myth."  

Cannon, Joe Johnson, and Ishmael Reed began an independent publishing house focused on multicultural literature in the 1970s called Reed, Cannon, and Johnson.  In 1973 he also collaborated with Reed to interview the first Black sci-fi writer, George S. Schuyler, for Yardbird II, Reed's publication.  Cannon met his friend, artist David Hammons on a park bench in the 1970s. The two collaborated on certain works, including Invisible Paintings, where he traced Cannon's painting collection with pencil and removed the physical works. Hammons once bottled Cannon's voice-speaking poems. Cannon wrote poems about Hammons's work and made public appearances for him.  Cannon mentored many writers, including Eileen Myles and Paul Beatty.  In 2013 he was featured with curator Lydia Y. Nichols in an artist talk about Black bodies and migration for Curator's International.  Cannon went completely blind in 1989 from glaucoma.  

In 1990 Cannon was visiting the Nuyorican Poet's Cafe with Hammons when he was inspired to create A Gathering of the Tribes as a literary magazine to document the vibrant culture in the Lower East Side of New York City. The first issue was published with less than 1000 copies in 1991 on a Xerox machine.  By 1993 Tribes quickly grew into a salon and non-profit multi-cultural interdisciplinary arts organization run from his home in Manhattan's East Village neighborhood. Cannon wanted it to be a multicultural, multigenerational space for both local and traveling art lovers.  The collective also hosted a gallery and performance space where numerous exhibitions and concerts have taken place, supporting and inspiring many notable artists and musicians such as Sun Ra Arkestra, David Henderson, Chavisa Woods, John Farris, Bob Holman, Ishmael Reed, Billy Bang, Max Blagg, and David Hammons.  One of Cannon's exhibitions at Tribes Gallery, titled "Exquisite Poop," was inspired by his relationship with visual art as a blind person.

A painter included in the exhibition would describe a piece to participating writers, who would then describe the painting to a different painter, who would paint it.  In April 2014, both the organization and Cannon were forced to relocate, and the gallery was permanently shut when their occupancy agreement with the building had previously been sold. Simultaneously a wall that retained some of an art-piece by David Hammons was removed and relocated by the organization and replaced by another minus the pedigree adornment.  Tribes magazine began publishing online, and Cannon published an anthology in hard copy in 2017.  Cannon went completely blind in 1989 from glaucoma.  Steve Cannon died on July 7, 2019, from sepsis at an assisted nursing facility in New York City at age 84. 

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