Pat Parker

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For the football player, see Pat Parker (footballer).
Pat Parker
Born Patricia Cooks
(1944-01-20)January 20, 1944
Houston, Texas
Died June 17, 1989(1989-06-17) (aged 45)
Oakland, California
Residence  United States
Nationality African American
Occupation poet, activist
Spouse(s) Ed Bullins, June 20, 1962 (divorced, January 17, 1966)
Robert F. Parker, January 20, 1966 (divorced)
Partner(s) Marty Dunham, life partner
Children Cassidy Brown
Anastasia Dunham-Parker
Parent(s) Ernest Nathaniel Cooks
Marie Louise (Anderson) Cooks

Pat Parker (January 20, 1944 – June 19, 1989 Houston, Texas) was an African-American lesbian feminist poet.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Parker grew up working class poor in Third Ward, Houston, Texas,[4] a mostly African-American part of the city. Her mother (born Marie Louise Anderson) was a domestic worker, and her father, Ernest Nathaniel Cooks retreaded tires.[3][5]

When she was four years old, her family moved to Sunnyside, Houston, Texas.[6]

She left home at seventeen, moved to Los Angeles, California, earning an undergraduate degree there at Los Angeles City College, and a graduate degree at San Francisco State College.[5] She got married to playwright Ed Bullins in 1962.[5][7] Parker and Bullins separated after four years. She later said that her ex-husband was physically violent and that she was "scared to death of him".[6]

She got married a second time, to Berkeley, California writer Robert F. Parker,[5][8] but decided that the "idea of marriage... wasn't working" for her.[6]

Parker began to identify as a lesbian in the late 1960s, and, in a 1975 interview with Anita Cornwell, stated that "after my first relationship with a woman, I knew where I was going."[6]

Work Life[edit]

Parker was involved in the Black Panther Movement, in 1979 she toured with the Varied Voices of Black Women, a group of poets and musicians which included Linda Tillery, Mary Watkins & Gwen Avery.[9][10] She founded the Black Women's Revolutionary Council in 1980,[7][10] and she also contributed to the formation of the Women's Press Collective, as well as being involved in wide-ranging activism in gay and lesbian organizing.[7]

Parker worked from 1978-1987 as a medical coordinator at the Oakland Feminist Women's Health Center.[7]


Parker gave her first public poetry reading in 1963 in Oakland. In 1968, she began to read her poetry to women's groups at Women's bookstores, coffeehouses and feminist events.[11]

Judy Grahn, a fellow poet and a personal friend, identifies Pat Parker's poetry as a part of the "continuing Black tradition of radical poetry".[12]

Cheryl Clarke, another poet and peer, identifies her as a "lead voice and caller" in the world of lesbian poetry.[13] Designed to confront both black and women's communities with, as Clarke notes, "the precariousness of being non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual in a racist, misogynist, homophobic, imperial culture."[14] Clarke believes that Parker articulates, "a black lesbian-feminist perspective of love between women and the circumstances that prevent our intimacy and liberation."[14]

Pat Parker and Audre Lorde first met in 1969 and continued to exchange letters and visits until Parker's death in 1989. Their collaboration inspired many, including lesbian-feminist blues/R&B singer Nedra Johnson, whose song "Where Will You Be?" has become somewhat of a feminist anthem in the USA.[5]


Parker's elder sister was murdered by her husband, and the autobiographical poem, Womanslaughter (1978) is based on this event.[7]

In the poem,[15] Parker notes that

Her things were his
including her life.

The perpetrator was convicted of "womanslaughter", not murder;[7] because

Men cannot kill their wives.
They passion them to death.

He served a one-year sentence in a work-release program.[7] Parker brought this crime to the International Tribunal on Crimes against Women in 1976 in Brussels,[16] vowing

I will come to my sisters
not dutiful,
I will come strong.


Parker died in 1989 of breast cancer at age 45.[7] The national lesbian-feminist community mourned her loss, and several things have been named after her, such as Pat Parker Place, a community center in Chicago. She is survived by her long-time partner and two daughters, along with countless admirers and fans of her activism and poetry.[7]



Where Will You Be?


  • Child of Myself (1972) The Women's Press Collective
  • Pit Stop (1973) The Women's Press Collective
  • Womanslaughter (1978) Diana Press
  • Movement in Black (1978) Crossing Press
  • Jonestown & Other Madness (1989) Firebrand Books
  • Movement in Black: The Collected Poetry of Pat Parker, 1961–1978 (includes work from Child of Myself and Pit Stop), foreword by Audre Lorde, introduction by Judy Grahn, Diana Press (Oakland, California), 1978, expanded edition, introduction by Cheryl Clarke, Firebrand Books (Ithaca, New York), 1999.
  • Also contributor to
    • Plexus
    • Amazon Poetry
    • I Never Told Anyone
    • Home Girls
    • This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, Women of Color Press, 1981
    • other anthologies, magazines, and newspapers.


  • Unleashing Feminism: Critiquing Lesbian Sadomasochism in the Gay Nineties (1993) (with Anna Livia Julian Brawn and Kathy Miriam)

Select anthologies[edit]


  1. ^ Pat Parker Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 19. Gale Research, 1998. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group, 2008 ( Fee. Accessed 27 December 2008.
  2. ^ Bereano, Nancy K. Publisher's note, Movement in Black, 1989, Crossing Press, ISBN 0-89594-113-9
  3. ^ a b Pat Parker. Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2002. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group, 2008 ( Entry Updated : 25 July 2000 . Fee. Accessed 27 December 2008.
  4. ^ Grahn, Judy. Preface, Movement in Black, 1989, Crossing Press, ISBN 0-89594-113-9
  5. ^ a b c d e De Veaux, Alexis. Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde, W. W. Norton & Company, 2004, ISBN 0-393-01954-3, pp166-167
  6. ^ a b c d Cornwell, Anita. Pat Parker -- Black Lesbian Poet Radical Pioneer author of Movement in Black, Hera Magazine, 1975, quoted in A Muse
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Alexander, Ilene 1998
  8. ^ Simon, John Oliver. Aldebaran Review in Berkeley Daze, Big Bridge Press
  9. ^ National Black Herstory Task Force
  10. ^ a b Deep Oakland
  11. ^ VG/Voices from the Gaps Project: Ilene Alexander
  12. ^ Grahn, Judy. 1978, quoted in Feminist Review, No. 34, Perverse Politics: Lesbian Issues (Spring, 1990)
  13. ^ Clarke, Cheryl. Movement in Black, 1989, Crossing Press, ISBN 0-89594-113-9
  14. ^ a b Clarke, Cheryl. Review of Movement in Black Conditions (magazine) Six, Summer 1980, pp217-225
  15. ^ Parker, Pat. Womanslaughter, Diana Press, 1978
  16. ^ Russell, Diana E. H. Report on the International Tribunal on Crimes against Women, Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring, 1977, pp1-6


  • McEwen, Christian, editor, Naming the Waves: Contemporary Lesbian Poetry, Virago (New York City), 1988.
  • Moraga, Cherríe, and Gloria Anzaldúa, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, Women of Color Press, 1981.
  • Parker, Pat, Jonestown and Other Madness, Firebrand Books, 1985.
  • Parker, Pat, Movement in Black: The Collected Poetry of Pat Parker, 1961–1978, foreword by Audre Lorde, introduction by Judy Grahn, Diana Press (Oakland, California), 1978, expanded edition, introduction by Cheryl Clarke, Firebrand Books (Ithaca, New York), 1999.
  • Booklist, March 15, 1999, p. 1279.
  • Callaloo, winter, 1986, pp. 259–62.
  • Colby Library Quarterly (Waterville, ME), March, 1982, pp. 9–25.
  • Conditions: Six, 1980, p. 217.
  • Feminist Review, spring 1990, pp. 4–7.
  • Library Journal, July, 1985, p. 77.
  • Margins, Vol. 23, 1987, pp. 60–61.
  • Women's Review of Books, April, 1986, pp. 17–19.
  • Blain, Virginia, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy. The Feminist Companion to Literature in English: Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1990: 833.
  • Oktenberg, Adrian. In Women's Review of Books (Wellesley, Massachusetts), April 1986: 17-19.
  • Ridinger, Robert B. Marks. "Pat Parker", in Gay & Lesbian Literature. Detroit, Michigan: St. James Press, 1994: 289-290.

External links[edit]