Openly gay Emory professor and noted renown African-American studies scholar Rudolph Byrd has died, reports the GAVoice and the AP. The scholar reportedly died of Friday from multiple myeloma, "a cancer of the plasma cells."
Byrd is a founding co-chair of the Alice Walker Literary Society and helped bring the Pulitzer Prize winning author's literary archive to Emory's library. He also founded the university's James Weldon Johnson Institute, a residency program that brings together scholars to study the modern civil rights era. Earlier this year he published a new critical edition of Jean Toomer's "Cane," with Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution adds:
Mr. Byrd founded an institute at Emory named after the author and NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson and was chair of the department of African-American studies. He also founded Emory's Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, which provides financial support for undergraduates. [...]
Lately, Mr. Byrd had been connecting issues of race and sexuality, collaborating with scholars on topics involving gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, said Mr. Earl Lewis, the Emory provost. Mr. Byrd planned to deliver a series of lectures at Harvard titled "Other Voices Within the Veil: The Emergence of the Black Queer Subject in 20th Century African-American Literature and Culture." Mr. Gates said the lectures will still be delivered -- by former Spelman College president Johnnetta Cole.
The news has saddened many of Byrd's colleagues in academia. John Keene, an associate professor of English and African American Studies at Northwestern University, knew Byrd very well and tells Rod 2.0, "Rudolph Byrd was an incredible person, one of my intellectual mentors, generous, kind [and] wonderful. He also was an important mentor to many scholars and writers," Keene adds. "And his courage as an out, Black gay scholar should not be underestimated."
Rudolph Byrd's impact was far-reaching and inter-generational. New York City-based poet and performance artist Yolo Akili tells Rod 2.0, "The first time I met Dr. Byrd I was working for Men Stopping Violence. ... I was so struck by his spiritual presence, I assumed he had to be royalty of some kind. Like the kind of man who led prayers and believed in a power within himself. I always found myself holding my head up a little higher after our encounters," says Akili. "His work on gender and sexuality helped many heal and empowered even more. He will be missed."
A memorial and burial details will be announced within the next few days, reports the GAVoice.
Rudolph Byrd was only 58-years-old.