from Gale Databases: Contemporary Authors


Lorenzo Thomas


Nationality: Panamanian
Ethnicity: Black
Entry Updated : 02/21/2003
Place of Birth: Republic of Panama

Genre(s): Poetry

Dwight Durling prize in poetry, 1963; Poets Foundation awards, 1966 and 1974; Committee on Poetry grant, 1973; Lucille Medwick Award, 1974; National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship, 1983; Houston Festival Foundation Arts award, 1984.

Table of Contents:
Personal Information
Further Readings About the Author

Personal Information: Family: Born August 31, 1944, in the Republic of Panama; immigrated to the United States in 1948; son of Herbert Hamilton (a pharmacist and chemist) and Luzmilda (a community organizer; maiden name, Gilling) Thomas. Education: Queens College (now of the City University of New York), B.A., 1967; graduate study at Pratt Institute. Memberships: Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines (member of board of directors). Addresses: Office: University of Houston--Downtown, One Main St., #1035-S, Houston, TX 77002. E-mail:

Career: Poet. Pratt Institute, New York, NY, assistant reference librarian, 1967-68; Texas Southern University, Houston, writer-in-residence, 1973; Black Arts Center, Houston, TX, Ethnic Arts Program, creative writing teacher, 1973-75; Living Blues, Chicago, IL, correspondent, 1976--; University of Houston--Downtown, Houston, professor of English. Has worked with the Poetry-in-the-Schools program in New York, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Arkansas, and Georgia. Organizer of Juneteenth Blues Festivals in Houston and other Texas cities. Member of advisory board, KPFT-FM, Houston, 1973--; member of literature advisory panel, Texas Commission on the Arts and Humanities, 1975--. Military service: U.S. Naval Reserve, 1968-72; served in Vietnam.



  • A Visible Island, Adlib Press (New York, NY), 1967.

  • Fit Music: California Songs, Angel Hair Books (New York, NY), 1972.

  • Dracula, Angel Hair Books (New York, NY), 1973.

  • (Editor) ANKH: Getting It Together, Hope Development, 1974.

  • (Contributor) Steve Cannon, editor, Jambalaya, Reed, Cannon & Johnson (Berkeley, CA), 1975.

  • Framing the Sunrise, Sun Be/Am Associates, 1975.

  • Sound Science, Sun Be/Am Associates, 1978.

  • The Bathers: Selected Poems, Reed, Cannon & Johnson (Berkeley, CA), 1978.

  • Chances Are Few, Blue Wind Press (Berkeley, CA), 1979.

  • (Editor) I Luv It!: A Selection of Poems by Children in Grade 4-6, Artists-in-Residence Program (Beaumont, TX), 1977.


  • (Coauthor, with Louis Guida and Cheryl Cohen) Blues Music in Arkansas, Portfolio Associates (Philadelphia, PA), 1982.

  • (Editor) Sing the Sun Up: Creative Writing Ideas from African-American Literature, Teachers & Writers Collaborative (New York, NY), 1998.

  • Extraordinary Measures: Afrocentric Modernism and Twentieth-Century American Poetry, University of Alabama Press (Tuscaloosa, AL), 2000.


Also translator of Tho Tu Viet-Nam (poetry). Contributor to anthologies, including Black Fire: An Anthology of Black American Writing, Morrow (New York, NY), 1968; The Poetry of Black America, edited by Arnold Adoff, Harper (New York, NY), 1972; New Black Voices, edited by Abraham Chapman, New American Library (New York, NY), 1972; and None of the Above, edited by Michael Lally, Crossing Press (Santa Cruz, CA), 1976. Contributor to periodicals, including Angel Hair, Art & Literature, C, Massachusetts Review, Umbra, Yardbird, and Yardbird Reader. Editor, Roots; advisory editor, Nimrod; contributing editor, Black Focus.


Lorenzo Thomas is a Panamanian-born American poet, critic, editor, and educator. From his early work among the avant-garde poetry movements in New York City during the 1960s to his most recent critical publication, Extraordinary Measures: Afrocentric Modernism and Twentieth- Century American Poetry, Thomas has offered a unique literary perspective, drawing on his Central American and African heritage, as well as his experiences in New York and in the American Southwest. Writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Tom Dent called Thomas "one of the most broadly based and multifaceted writers of African descent in America today" and praised Thomas's poetry as "noteworthy for its extraordinary, imaginative depiction of popular American culture and for his unique intermixture of apparently unrelated frames of reference."

Thomas's family moved from Panama to New York City in 1948. The Spanish-speaking youth was teased by other children, and he resolved to improve his language skills to prevent further humiliation. His early career coincided with the growing civil rights movement and the rediscovery by Black writers of their African heritage. Reflecting Thomas's interest in African history and folk culture as well as expressing social criticism, these works employ strong visual imagery, song, and allusion, while centering on such subjects as civil rights and American pop culture. The cinematic imagery of Thomas's work is exemplified by the title poem of his collection, The Bathers: Selected Poems, which Dent described as "a series of refractions off the indelible photographic image of black demonstrators being attacked with police fire hoses during the Birmingham demonstrations." Reviewing Thomas's collection Chances Are Few in the American Book Review, Fielding Dawson called the volume a "profound key to poetry and prose of the future," adding: "To think this writing is being done for black audiences and being written by black writers, is to live in an inverted hypocrisy. These poems are guidelines for us all." In Library Journal Maurice Kenny called the poems "sharp, urbane, caustic social criticism."

Extraordinary Measures, published in 2000, offers a critical overview of African American poetry from the Harlem Renaissance to modern poetry slams, including considerations of the works of such writers as Amiri Baraka, William Stanley Braithwaite, Fenton Johnson, Harryette Mullen, Kalamu ya Salaam, Melvin B. Tolson, Askia M. Toure, and Margaret Walker. Recommending the book in Library Journal, Louis J. Parascandola called Thomas's writing "perceptive" and "jargon-free," and concluded that "Thomas makes a convincing case for a continuum within the African American poetic tradition."



  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 41: Afro-American Poets since 1955, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.


  • American Book Review, May, 1982, Fielding Dawson, review of Chances Are Few.

  • Black Scholar, May, 1980; March, 1981.

  • Choice, July-August, 2001, B. Taylor-Thompson, review of Extraordinary Measures: Afrocentric Modernism and Twentieth-Century American Poetry, p. 1964.

  • English Journal, May, 2000, Louann Reid, review of Sing the Sun Up: Creative Writing Ideas from African-American Literature, pp. 151-152.

  • Freedomways, Volume 20, 1980.

  • Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, November, 1998, review of Sing the Sun Up, p. 247; May, 1999, Jeanne McGlinn, review of Sing the Sun Up, pp. 683-685.

  • Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, November, 1998, review of Sing the Sun Up, p. 29.

  • Library Journal, April 1, 1980, Maurice Kenny, review of Chances Are Few; October 15, 2000, Louis J. Parascandola, review of Extraordinary Measures, pp. 71-72.

  • Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1998, review of Sing the Sun Up, p. 233.


  • Alabama Journalist Online, (October 6, 2000), Les Drennen, "Lorenzo Thomas Breathes Life into Poetry with Anecdote, Banter."

  • New Journal, (November 1, 2001), "Talking to Lorenzo Thomas."

  • University of Alabama Press, (January, 2001), review of Extraordinary Measures: Afrocentric Modernism and Twentieth-Century American Poetry.*

Source: Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2003.

Gale Database: Contemporary Authors

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