Producer Joanne Gabbin wrote, “African-American poetry is both furious and flowering…a poetry of grace and rage, of identity and struggle, combining beauty and political activism.” Her description applies to the poetry of Gerald Barrax (b. 1933), whose work is marked by tenderness and anger, by reverie and irony, by castigation and celebration. Born in Alabama, Gerald Barrax moved to Pittsburgh when he was ten. He served four years in the Air Force and received degrees from Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh. In 1969 he joined the faculty at North Carolina Central University then moved to North Carolina State University, where he is an esteemed professor in the Master of Fine Arts program.
Since 1970 Barrax has published five volumes of poetry as well as work in numerous journals and anthologies. For a number of years he served as editor of Obsidian, a major contemporary journal, and as poetry editor for Callaloo.
Of African, Indian, and Dutch ancestry, Barrax has not been slow to deal with his black heritage and with the race-based injustices he has seen and/or experienced. His entry in the African-American Registry reads: “Gerald Barrax: a poet with humanity in mind!” Marked by originality, introspection, and intellectual engagement with a wide range of subjects, his work draws from the best traditions of poetry writing. He shapes and reshapes the images, metaphors, and ideas of his poems until they satisfy his stringent requirements. His work has been honored by numerous awards, including a Ford Foundation Fellowship, the Sam Ragan Award, and the Raleigh Medal of Arts. In 2000 he was the honoree of the North Carolina Writers’ Conference.
Father of five and grandfather of two, Barrax currently lives in Raleigh with his wife, Joan, and continues to honor us all with his poetry.
From a Person Sitting in Darkness (LSU Press, 1998):
Watch a documentary short featuring Gerald Barrax, courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, in honor of his 2009 North Carolina Award for Literature: