With the passing of Gideon Ferebee, "the Gidster", we in Washington, DC have lost a central figure in our African-American, GLBT and artistic communities. Gideon's self-expression in poetry, prose, video, and public performance was direct, unapologetic and of a piece with the forthright unabashed self- and societal-examination that characterized much of the work of the ENIKAlley Coffeehouse DC Space era artists in metropolitan Washington, DC. Locally, Gideon worked for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Gideon Ferebee is known principally for his poetry. His first collection of poems, Out! to Lead was published in 1994. Eight years later (March 2002) he published the autobiographical collection Searching for the Boy. This was followed later the same year by the privately distributed collection Reflections of ..... His degree in Speech and Theater and Political Science (Valparaiso University, 1975) was part of his preparation for his career in poetry, performance art, theatre, and publishing. In 1987, he was a chosen artist in the Washington Program in the Arts (now housed at the Corcoran).
In Searching for the Boy, a mix of poetry and prose, he recalls that
"It wasn't until the mid-nineteen-eighties, after experiencing Essex Hemphill, Michelle Parkerson, Chasen Gaver, performance-poetry, and Station to Station, that I began to expose the rage and pain that was reshaping my 'poetry,' my sexuality and my understanding of what it meant to me to be a man, a poet and an African American. Gideon was centrally placed in the 1980s and 1990s African-American gay and lesbian artistic and intellectual renaissance in the city, known to and appreciated by artists such as Essex Hemphill, Michelle Parkerson, Chasen Gaver, Larry Duckette, Garth Tate, Wayson Jones, Greg Ford and Chris Prince. In the artistic ferment of the times, he was part of the scene at the ENIKAlley Coffeehouse (behind 819 I St. NE and at DC Space (7th and F NW), where performance artists, poets, actors, and musicians congregated and experimented.
Michelle Parkerson describes the period as a time when
"... we were beginning to put flesh on the bones of our gay identities as well, our black gay identities and seeing those as primary voices from which we wrote. Places from which we wrote and spoke and were politicized.” (oral history, 2001)
Gideon finished his poem Refugee (1986), with:
I am a refugee
In search of a new horizon
Where my name, the color of my skin,
My religion will be like a gift
To this adoptive community
In search of a new dawning
Where my quest for freedom
Will be like a blessing
At the end of my journey
Gideon collaborated extensively with fellow artists. With Chasen Gaver, he collaborated on Stay or Go?, a collaborative performance of poetry (1986) taped live in DC. For Beat: The Performance Poetry of Chasen Gaver (1984), he was interviewed by filmmaker Jamie Walter. In 1997, he and Michelle Parkerson presented Behind Our Masks at the first Mid-Atlantic GLBT Writers Conference organized by Lambda Book Report. Two years earlier he had been interviewed on local Pacifica station WPFW.
A major collaboration was Gideon's participation in the poetry collective Station to Station which featured prominently in the 80s performance scene and helped shape many local artists' subsequent careers. Other members of the collective were Larry Duckette, Greg Ford, Essex Hemphill, Chris Prince, and Garth Tate.
Filmmaker Marlon Rigg cast Gideon in Rigg's seminal film Tongues Untied (1989). With Essex Hemphill, Larry Duckette, and Chris Prince, he dramatized Joe Beam's poem Brother to Brother with the syncopation made popular by the Cinque performance group. In 1992, he tried his own hand at experimental video with a dramatization of Chasen Gaver's Disappearing Act (a short color video dramatizing Gaver's poem of daily loss).
Gideon's long partnership with Leroy Sutton Jr. ended temporally in 1990 with Sutton's death but continued to live through much of Gideon's work and self-expression. Gideon's life was challenged by a stroke described in the poem Point of Contact (1999):
I essay to scratch
With my left hand these days
At the small of my back ...
Yet, my blessings do thrive
Bring tears of joy
On the face of a man
Little more than a boy at heart
Gideon Ferebee died of pancreatic cancer on September 24th.
and giving him the last word: