The poet Lorenzo Thomas, whose speech on “Poetry and the Vernacular” I blogged last year, has died.

Thomas was born in Panama in 1944. Four years later the family immigrated to New York City, where Thomas grew up. Spanish was his first language, and he strove to master English to escape getting beaten up by other kids for “talking funny.”

“Never forgot it,” he once said. “Went way, way, way away out of my way to become extra fluent in English.”…

References to American popular culture — music especially — abound in Thomas’ work. He cited as influences such blues legends as Robert Johnson, Houston native Lightnin’ Hopkins and the Houston poet-singer Juke Boy Bonner, whom Thomas eulogized in the journal Callaloo. Thomas helped organize Juneteenth Blues Festivals in Houston and other Texas cities.

“I write poems because I can’t sing,” he once said.

The sad news comes via wood s lot, where his poem “Back in the Day” is quoted; it begins:

When we were boys
We called each other “Man”
With a long n
Pronounced as if a promise

We wore felt hats
That took a month to buy
In small installments…


  1. This is indeed terrible news. I grew up in and around Houston, and when I was at Rice University Thomas was a bit of a living god for some of us. I always especially loved the collection Chances Are Few. The stilling of such a strong voice is always cause for a moment’s silence shared among us all.

  2. Daniel Rich says

    I was a student of Lorenzo’s at UHD, I will always remember him as a mentor and friend. In the 12 plus years I knew him, he was a tireless advocate of Houston arts and young writers in particular. Of the dozens of poets he introduced me to, I will always remember him as one of the most elegant and thoughtful poets I have ever read.

  3. Donald Johnson says

    My wife had the privilege of meeting him at the U of Houston’s Common Ground project. At the funeral, some curious things occurred regarding his wife (family?). Could someone please clear this up?

  4. Larry Fontenot says

    I was also at the Wheeler Church service today, and although I was not a close friend of Lorenzo, I had seen him many times over the last 10 years (mainly with the Houston Poetry Fest). The obit in the Chronicle mentioned a “companion” named Karen Luik. I had no idea that Lorenzo had a wife and children. I had met his brother and uncle at the hospice but had not brought up the subject of other family members.
    I’m not so sure that he was living in Bryan either, and suspect that his wife might have been living there, and that they were separated.
    Also, I’m pretty sure Lorenzo had a reoccurrence of the cancer that took part of his jaw a few years ago, rather than the emphysema mentioned in the Chronicle obit.
    So I’m as confused as you are. I had a great respect for the man and his generosity (as well as for his poetry – one of the last times I saw him read was at the Artery when “Dancing on Main Street” came out).
    Last year I went to a memorial service for a person I knew at work, and it became obvious at that service that the woman’s blood family (sisters, brother and mother) was feuding with the husband, who did not even come to the service. It’s so unfortunate that some complicated family dealings often surface at sad moments like these.

  5. Donald Johnson says

    Is not a man’s greatness measured by the total legacy he leaves, not just the most politically correct part? Certainly, the man had a right to his privacy in life, but familial relationships are a matter of public record. Why can these not be discussed?

  6. lisa taylor says

    I had the pleasure of working with Lorenzo Thomas through the literary series Arts & Letters Live at the Dallas Museum of Art. We produced a program encompassing blues and poetry and he was perfect for it. What a grand soul…I will never forget his spirit. I was very touched by him. And the great news is I met my best friend through him so his memory will stay with us forever.

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