Essex Hemphill Dear Muthafuckin Dreams (1988)
  • Title: Dear Muthafuckin Dreams
  • Holdings: photo gallery
  • Duration: Unknown
  • Language: English
  • Date: Apr 1988
  • Location: Franklin Furnace, New York, New York, USA
  • Type-Format: performance
  • Credits: Written by Essex Hemphill. Performed by Essex Hemphill, Terence A. Johnson, and Christopher Prince. Music by Wayson Jones. Visuals by Joyce Wellman, Sharon Farmer, and Ron Simmons. Lighting by Therese Haney. Photographic documentation by Franklin Furnace.

Essex Hemphill Dear Muthafuckin Dreams (1988)

Essex Hemphill confronts the politics of speech, language, and sexuality in Dear Muthafuckin Dreams (1988). Through a gay black lens, Hemphill addresses the cultural myth of the “American Dream”—the idea that every US citizen has an equal opportunity to achieve success through hard work, determination, and initiative. Hemphill, along with Terence Johnson and Christopher Prince, employs the black tradition of call and response, while also utilizing vocal techniques of unison and counterpoint. The performers interweave their vocal harmonies with Wayson Jones’ original composition, which incorporates various instruments to create an eclectic sound. These sonic elements are juxtaposed with visuals by Sharon Farmer, Ron Simmons, and Joyce Wellman. Dear Muthafuckin Dreams comments on the unfulfilled promises of the 1960s-1970s political era to fundamentally provide social equity to Black Americans.

Essex Hemphill (1957-1995) addressed issues central to the African American gay community through his poetry. His first collections of poems were the self-published chapbooks Earth Life (1985) and Conditions (1986). Hemphill’s Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry (1992) won the National Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual New Author Award. His writing is included in the anthologies Gay and Lesbian Poetry in Our Time (1986) and Life Sentences: Writers, Artists, and AIDS (1993). Hemphill edited the anthology Brother to Brother: New Writing by Black Gay Men (1991), which won the Lambda Literary Award. Hemphill participated in the performance poetry group Cinque with Wayson Jones and Larry Duckette; their work was later featured in the documentaries Tongues Untied (1989) and Black Is … Black Ain’t (1994). Hemphill’s poetry was also included in the film Looking for Langston (1989). He received fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Pew Charitable Trust Fellowship in the Arts, and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Hemphill was a visiting scholar at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities. He died of complications from AIDS in 1995.

Wayson R. Jones is an interdisciplinary artists working in music, dance, spoken-word, and painting. He performed with the renowned poet Essex Hemphill at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, La MaMa E.T.C., Painted Bride Art Center, and Blues Alley, among over venues. Jones has exhibited his art at BlackRock Center for the Arts, Hillyer Art Space, District of Columbia Arts Center, Gallery O on H, Arts Harmony Hall, The David Driskell Center, and Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Maryland; The Soundry, Candy Factory Center for the Arts, and University of Mary Washington in Virginia; Gallery 25 in California; and Jeffrey Leder Gallery in New York. His work has been purchased by the DC commission on the Arts and Humanities Art Bank program, and can be found in private and corporate collections around the United States. Jones holds a degree in music from the University of Maryland.

Additional Materials

icon Dear Muthafuckin Dreams press release

icon Dear Muthafuckin Dreams performance program