Monday, September 15, 2008

Reginald Shepherd, 1963 - 2008

As most readers of this blog are probably by now aware, Reginald Shepherd died September 10 after a fight against cancer.

Reginald was my partner, my best friend, my constant companion, my lover, my confidante, and much else besides. I don't know what I'll do without him for the rest of my life. I do plan to occasionally post material about Reginald here, along with writings from his files.

The following is a short piece about Reginald I wrote for his memorial service, which was held yesterday. Robert Philen


Reginald Shepherd, 1963 - 2008

Reginald Shepherd was born April 10, 1963 in New York City and passed away September 10, 2008 in Pensacola, surrounded by people whom he loved and who loved him.

Reginald was the son of Blanche Berry, who was originally from Macon, Georgia. He grew up in Bronx, New York, along with a sister, Regina Graham. He moved to Macon and lived with his aunt, Mildred Swint, after the death of his mother when he was fifteen.

Reginald earned a B.A. degree from Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, and M.F.A. degrees in Creative Writing from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and the University of Iowa in Iowa City. He taught literature and creative writing, most recently at Antioch University and earlier at the University of West Florida, Cornell University, and Northern Illinois University, and he was remarkably dedicated to his students and the craft of writing.

Reginald was a magnificent writer. He published five books of poetry (Some Are Drowning; Angel, Interrupted; Wrong; Otherhood; and Fata Morgana) and a book of essays (Orpheus in the Bronx), and he edited two poetry anthologies (The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries and Lyric Postmodernisms). He recently completed a sixth book of poetry and a second volume of essays that will be published posthumously. Among many awards for his writing, he most recently earned a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008 and won the 2007 silver medal for poetry in the Florida Book Awards.

Reginald met his partner, Robert Philen, in December, 1999 in Ithaca, New York, and ever since, their relationship has grown, based in conversation, compassion, sharing, friendship, passion, and profound love. The two have lived in Pensacola since July, 2001.

Over the past year, Reginald faced tremendous adversity and continuous pain from a series of illnesses related to cancer, but he faced it all with profound strength and courage, tenacity, love of life – and gentleness, dignity, and innocence. He fought long and hard against the illness, but as one nurse who worked with him toward the end put it, “He remained a gentleman to the end.”

Any of us who knew Reginald are devastated and heartbroken at this loss, and we will miss his unique combination of verve and vivacity, wit and intelligence, tenacity and strength, gentleness, empathy, and sweetness, generosity and innocence. We will also, despite our profound sadness, remain ennobled, happy, and blessed by the time we spent with him.

52 comments:

ReggieH said...

Our thoughts, prayers, and love are with you Robert.

Reb said...

Thank you for posting this. Strength to you Robert.

Christopher Hennessy said...

All my thoughts with you, Robert. When you feel up to it, let me know and I'll share bunch of tribute links I've been collecting. Until then, may memories of good times provide some solace.

Nic Sebastian said...

all the very best

Mark Granier said...

Thanks for posting that Robert. Bless you,

Mark

hesperia said...

Hello Robert. I "met" Reginald on this blog on the evening of September 10th and spent a good part of the night reading anything I could find about him, because I was so impressed and moved by his words. I learned the next day that he had died and have been all the more moved to read the tributes to him and more of his work.

I don't know how you'll live without him either. People you don't know wish you well.

vmh said...

Thank you for posting this. My thoughts are with you.

Catherine Imbriglio said...

Dear Robert,

Because Reginald loved you so,
because you were so strong for him,
I say my sorrow here.

Catherine

Nels Nelson said...

I was a student of Reginald Shepherd's while a grad student at Northern Illinois University, and remember the quick, insightful passion he brought to the classroom each week.

Rest in peace.

Brad Richard said...

Robert,

I'm glad for you that Reginald, always the kindest and most generous of friends, had so many friends who are reaching out to you now. My sorrow is immense.

love,
Brad

Brandon Hobson said...

My condolences for your loss. May you be blessed with good memories.

seanag said...

Thank you, Robert. I am so grateful to you for keeping this blog going so that all of us, many of us really strangers in any true sense of the word can share both our sadness and our gratitude. I hope you have good friends looking after you right now.

nanette rayman rivera said...

I am so sorry for your loss. May you find strength.

nanette rayman rivera

Edward Mycue said...

dear robert, thank you for your kindness in your time of grief to make this posting. it is a tribute to reginald and to your love as a couple and your devotion to our fallen comrade. edward mycue

Marilyn said...

Dear Robert -- My thoughts are with you this morning as they were yesterday. Thank you for your own posting, and for posting Reginald's last poem. What Reginald did with his time is an amazement and an inspiration. As is the love, in every sense of the word, that you had, that you yourself still have, for each other.
Marilyn

Lisa C. Moore said...

my thoughts are with you, Robert. thank you for continuing to post.

Andrew Shields said...

Peace be with you, Robert.

brian salchert said...

Amen, Mr. Robert Philen.
Thank you.

Ms Baroque said...

Robert, that is a beautiful thing you wrote, full of the same gentlemanliness in this awful time that you say Reginald had; clearly you shared this quality of dignity. I'm thinking of Reginald from over the Atlantic, and sending you my very best wishes.

Katy xx

Becca said...

Dear Robert,

I am devastated to hear this news. My husband was a good friend of Reginald's (Reggie, back then)in college, but they hadn't been in touch in several years--we didn't even know he was ill. We cherish his poetry, we will cherish his memory, and we send you our very best wishes.

Becca

dcwojahn said...

Dear Robert,

I met Rginald many times over the years. I always found him charming and generous, and--above all--his dedication to his art was uncompromising and humbling. His talent was immense, and he had little patience for the slickness and careerism that too often cheapens the work we practice. I know something about what it's like to lose a beloved partner, but I also know how consoling it can be, eventually, after the grief subsides, to know that the work of that partner will live on in the minds and hearts of other readers, and especially of new readers who will learn and be sustained by his example. Reginald will be greatly missed, and I wish you the very best for the future.
Sincerely.

David Wojahn

mckennal said...

I don't honestly believe I have a right to post here. But as a continuing testament to Reginald's inspiration and influence, I was moved by his two poems in the Sept/Oct 2008 American Poetry Review to seek him out. Alas, I'm knocking on the doors of phantom listeners. But I kept my word as I told them I would. Reginald's poetry is moving to say the least. "To Summon Up a Son" is one of the saddest but strangely empathetic poems that I have ever read. You don't have to look back to know that we're behind you, Reginald. Those of us new to your works, those of us versed in it. Blessings.

Jeffery Beam said...

Dear Robert
Reginald was an extraordinary poet and a generous soul. My sympathy joins the host of many, earthly and other, that sing to you, and that embrace Reginald's voice.
Reginald wrote a number of book reviews for Oyster Boy Review, a magazine that I poetry edit. We have three reviews of his in press that will be posted online in the next few months. We're proud to once again offer his brilliant assessments to our pages.

Many blessings to you and our deepest sympathy.

Jeffery Beam

Troy Camplin said...

My sincere condolences. I obviously haven't been here in a while, so I wasn't aware. The two of us fought a bit on the nature of beauty and poetry -- but healthy tension is the source of growth after all.

gabrielle jesiolowski said...

robert, i hope that you are finding peace, light and grace through this immense, deep loss. reginald's poetry has touched my life with its compassion and lyrical song... and will forever. - gabrielle

J said...

I took a fiction/poetry class at Cornell that Reginald taught roughly eight years ago. He was such a fabulous teacher and a warm person. I just wanted to send my condolences.
j. schneider

Grant said...

Reginald's Intro to Creative Writing class was the first writing class I ever took. I was a History major at the time. That semester, I changed to English/Creative Writing and I never looked back. Reginald helped me get into the MFA program at San Francisco State. I am almost done with my first novel. It would never have happened without him. He will be missed.

Rachel said...

Robert,
Reginald and I were both teaching at Antioch a couple of summers ago. I didn't know him well, but one of the things that struck me was how he spoke about you--often, and with such love and unadorned affection. One of the things he said that was hardest for him about the teaching gig was being away from his sweetie. I am so glad I got to meet him, and so sorry for your loss.
Rachel Toor

Alice C. Linsley said...

May God grant Reginald peace in that place where there is Eternal Light and never a tear.

Linda said...

Robert,
I am so sorry for your loss. I never met Reginald, but I have always loved his poems. I was saddened to find out just today that he had died.
I know it must be harder at this holiday time for you, and I send you my best wishes.
Linda Aldrich

Brenda Gaines Hunter said...

I'm at a loss for words. Reginald Shepherd was my poet. I first met Mr. Shepherd through his book of poetry "Some Are Drowning" in 1993, and being black and gay, I identified with him very closely. I subsequently went on to purchase each of his books as soon as copies became available. And it was in the spring of 2003 that I got a chance to work with him on an interview about him and his work that was published in a 2003 edition of "Pleiades." That was my first publishing credit, and it couldn't have come as the result a better subject.

Mr. Shepherd was a of the brainiest and imaginative people I've ever had a chance to know on any level. "Orpheus in Bronx" is a call to educators and young marginalized people to usurp what is on offer and make it their own. The fact the Orpheus could even take up residence in the Bronx is a new concept to millions of people, myself included, who believe that the seeds of African American narratives begins and ends in the ghetto. What we learned through Mr. Shepherd is the the ghetto is pliable and diverse--or at least can be if we let it be, and that is our choice.

I'm sorry that I didn't know Mr. Shepherd was ill, because I certainly would have told him just how much his work and life means to me, that he has taught me, more so than anyone else that anything I can wrap my mind around can be mine.

We need to take these concepts to the "hood", let these children know that Orpheus, Hamlet, Zeus, and, yes, Narcissus, lives in the ghetto, too, and are a part of African American narratives.

L. T. said...

I am another one who has found Reginald Shepherd on this blog and felt great affinity for his writings. I was looking forward to letting him know how much I was enjoying his work, and I am so terribly sad to learn of his passing. He has certainly left much passionate and unusual work behind. I know his relationship will continue to grow and change with those who love him.

L. T. said...

PS I see a lot of people here connected to his writing as gay black males. Just for the record--and to say how broad his importance was--I am a straight white woman. L.T.

Alice C. Linsley said...

And I'm a white former Episcopal priest who left the ministry on the Sunday the Gene Robinson was consecrated. I'm opposed to same-sex ceremonies and the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals. I appreciated Reginald's great talent and followed his blog for about 18 months. I cried when I read that he had died. May he rest in peace and rise in joy!

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deborah2001 said...

I went to Southwest High School with Reggie (that's what we called him). I don't know why I decided to Google his name tonight but I did.

I am very sadden to hear of his death and your loss.

Durk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Durk said...

I was a student in his class at NIU--Modern American Poetry. He opened my eyes to Ezra, T.S, and Wallace. It seemed to me, he loved the expatriates most of all.

I was not his best student, but because I was an older, non-traditional student, we struck up a friendship that I will always cherish.

I am stunned to hear of his passing. He was a brilliant man.

John Petrucci said...

I could find about him, because I was so impressed and moved by his words.
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John Petrucci said...

I have ever read. You don't have to look back to know that we're behind you, Reginald. Those of us new to your works, those of us versed in it. Blessings.
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blog for steveLi said...

All my thoughts with you, Robert. When you feel up to it, let me know and I'll share bunch of tribute links I've been collecting. Until then, may memories of good times provide some solace cheap electronics