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Calling (Out) Our Names
An Editor's Note
"When He calls me, I will answer . . . / I'll be somewhere listening for my name . . ."
Audre Lorde * Marlon Riggs * Langston Hughes * Willie Smith * Terri Jewell A'Lelia Walker * Essex Hemphill * Pat Parker * Bessie Smith * Joe Beam Alice Dunbar Nelson * Bayard Rustin * Tyra Hunter * Melvin Dixon Alvin Ailey * Donald Woods * Dellon Wilson * Michael Kendall * Bruce Nugent Stephen Burrows * Mae V. Cowdery * Countee Cullen * James Baldwin Owen Dodson * Michael Peters * James Snead
In the final section of Beloved, Toni Morrison asks us to remember the "disremembered" and to account for them. We call some of their names in this special issue of Callaloo, and we dedicate it to two of them, whose names stand in for many names; their names become synecdochal for all those in the roll call, the many gone.
Near the close of the 1989 national meeting of the Callaloo editorial board in Charlottesville, Melvin Dixon agreed, to the applause of everyone present, that he would guest edit a special Gay-Lesbian issue of the journal. Unfortunately, he never lived to achieve this goal; in 1992, he died of complications of AIDS-HIV. During the years between 1977 and 1989, Melvin was an ardent advocate of the journal and a selfless participant in its development; but throughout his fight with the virus, our exchanges focused, in the main, on his work and the future of black gay writing. We spoke of the rages of AIDS-HIV, of the Reagan administration's bigoted view of the victims of the disease, and of Ronald Reagan's willful ignorance of the potential for the disease to become a pandemic. But of his own physical condition, Melvin never whined to friends or family. That was his style, his way. And that was how he first told me of his tragic circumstances.
Shortly after the close of our 1989 board meeting, Melvin visited me in my home. There he spoke to me for the first time, calmly and deliberately, with manifest sadness in his eyes, of his medical condition. I need not describe my response to that tragic news coming from one of my best friends--and a most devoted supporter of Callaloo. Whatever my response, Melvin, I am sure, diffused it with his wicked wit and with what Joseph Skerrett described as his "boyish playfulness." What I remember of that day, in fact, is not only the shock of his illness but also a bit of that "style" that made Melvin memorable, and it is the juxtaposition of the two moments that is defining of his character. Earlier in the day, he and I had seen another board member, renowned novelist Percival Everett, to the airport. As with most small airports in those days, there wasn't much point in going inside to see someone off. Instead, Melvin convinced me that we should stand at the fence by the tiny airport's parking lot, some fifty feet from the [End Page 1] passengers' open path to the steps of the waiting plane, and wave a proper goodbye. As Percival emerged from the terminal with the other passengers, I learned what Melvin meant by a proper goodbye: he began waving wildly and shouting at the top of his lungs, "Goodbye, famous author! Goodbye, famous author!!" Soon both of us were camping it up there in the parking lot, waving and screaming as if Percival Everett were a rock star. It was quite a sendoff.
When speaking of his physical condition, Melvin's dispassionate informing voice made it clear that he was not self-pitying, and that he would press on to do his work to the end. In fact, not until he was completely incapacitated did he allow his illness to prevent him from going about his academic and intellectual labors: creating poetry and prose fiction, writing essays and literary criticism, translating poetry and prose from French to English, teaching and--even though he curtailed his extensive travels throughout the USA, Europe, and Africa--delivering talks about African and African Diaspora literatures...