J. Otis Powell Passes Away – Poetry News Roundup 31st August

In today’s news roundup, we bring you the sad news that J. Otis Powell – a Poet and performer has passed away.

J. Otis Powell – Poet and Performer dies at 61

The poet, playwright and performer J. Otis Powell passed away on Monday 28th August of kidney failure at the age of just 61. He had been suffering with ill health for several years following a kidney transplant.

Powell grew up in Alabama where he attended the Alabama Agriculture and Mechanical University, his studies took him in a number of different directions before he eventually chose to study for a degree in in telecommunications and a minor in philosophy. During his time at the University he took part in a weekly talk show on public television, it is whilst he was doing this that he was able to land his first acting job; as a frog named Herman.

In 1987, Powell moved to Minnesota with his wife where he began work as a teaching volunteer. Since then he worked in many different areas of the arts; the Loft Literary Centre, Pangea Theatre, Intermedia Arts and KFAI. Whilst at KFAI he was one of the founding producers of Write On Radio! A show which looked at the art of writing; a subject that he was passionate about.

When it came to his poetry, Powell’s style was very evocative of Afrocentric tradition and law, he took influences from many things around him but in particular from music, both blues and jazz, of which he was a keen aficionado, in fact he often paired his poetry recitations with jazz music. As a teacher and a mentor, he took his role in the Black Arts Movement very seriously and was constantly pushing new talent to learn more about the history of the movement in order to help advance it further and make a positive contribution.

He was a prolific writer, making time to write every day. Amongst his most well-known works are his prose poem “Theology: Love & Revolution” and his book “My Tongue Has No Bone”. He was also a co-editor and contributor to an anthology of poetry “Blue Visions”, a chapbook “Pieces of Sky” which he wrote and Rain Taxi collaborated on for the editing and design, as well as being published in a number of journals and other anthologies.

He was also well known for the use of the interrobang, ‽; an unusual symbol that superimposes and exclamation mark over a question mark that always followed his name.

  1. Otis Powell received numerous awards during his lifetime; the Loft Creative Nonfiction Award, a Mid-Career Artist Grant, an Intermedia Arts Interdisciplinary McKnigh Fellowship and many more. A week before his death he was awarded the Ordway’s Sally Award for commitment to the arts, which he was due to be presented with in October.

His willingness to lead with excitement of the new possibilities provided by language, his passion for poetry and for teaching it have created a lasting legacy in the arts world; he will be sadly missed.


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