Tom Dent's Role in the Organizational Mentoring of African American Southern Writers: A Memoir

By Gex Breaux, Quo Vadis | African American Review, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Tom Dent's Role in the Organizational Mentoring of African American Southern Writers: A Memoir


Gex Breaux, Quo Vadis, African American Review


Thomas Covington Dent left a legacy larger than his published works. He left a legacy of caring, nurturing, passionate involvement in the grooming of writers and the organizations that support them. His work with the Umbra Workshop in the New York of the early 1960s, his efforts to sustain the Free Southern Theatre (FST) writing workshop that became Blkartsouth in the late sixties and seventies, and his Herculean efforts to keep a group of Black writers workshopping in New Orleans through the Congo Square Writers' Union in the 1980s all speak to a passion he expressed best in the closing lines of the preface to his first book of poetry, Magnolia Street. Invoking both his mentor and friend, South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, and his own passion for writing, Tom wrote, "Maybe someday I can pass on to someone else struggling to gain confidence in this passionate work something of what Kgositsile has bequeathed to me" (Preface). As peers, proteges, and friends readily attest, Tom succeeded in sharing his passion and bolstered many a floundering confidence.

"He was the bourbon among us," Ishmael Reed, a former Umbra member, told me as we commiserated over our loss late in the summer of 1998. We talked about Tom's uncanny way of handling people and situations and the New York Umbra group: "We met at Tom Dent's apartment and often the meetings would turn into free-for-alls. We were very sensitive to criticism and one could always feel the ego power sizzling in the room like a downed electrical wire. Dangerous. Among our members were those who would go on to establish international reputations" (20 July 1998). Included were Lorenzo Thomas, David Henderson, Calvin Hernton, N. H. Pritchard, Askia Toure, Charles and Raymond Patterson.

Reed's memories place Tom at the center of sane and sound handling of these fiery gatherings. He also elaborated on his bourbon comment: "I didn't know at the time, that Dent was a product of the African-American aristocracy, and he never let on about his origins" (3 Dec. 2001). The Black Collegian Online echoes Reed's observations about Tom's background, "Tom's father was president of Dillard University and Tom was groomed to become a major figure in the Black professional world" (par. 2). His mother, long before the feminist movement or the civil rights movement, was a concert pianist. Tom's family believed in service to the community, to the race. It was clear that they never quite expected their "how to conduct a worthy life" lessons to manifest in the organization of an arts movement widely associated with the radical thinking and behavior of the Black Power movement. About Tom, we in the New Orleans Congo Square crowd would occasionally wonder how anyone could seem so regal and yet be unfalteringly earthbound at the same time. How could anyone do so much while seeming to do so little, without undue external frenzy? Sometimes enigmatic friend and mentor, he was poet, writer, journalist, administrator, PR man, producer, community organizer, raconteur extraordinaire, and to many, just "Tom."

When hundreds of people came for his funeral services, from near and

as far away as Africa via New York, his brother commented, "It's like he was famous or something." We were always convinced that if he were not, he was one of the few people we knew whose work deserved fame. He was only 66 at his death. His mother, over 90 then, was inconsolable. Since Tom's death we have had time to review his life's work, his expressed intentions, and many actual outcomes.

Tom taught by example. For many of us he was the only person we knew actually living the "writing life." He devoted hours to discussion, analysis, and the importance of precision in intention. Reed outlined a system of beliefs that defined Umbra: "Umbra changed all of us and I think that if one person was the spearhead behind the whole thing, it was Tom. One thing all of us in Umbra shared was contempt for the middle class. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Tom Dent's Role in the Organizational Mentoring of African American Southern Writers: A Memoir
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.