A Life Well-Remembered

Every year, I find myself engrossed in the New York Times Magazine‘s collection of brief epitaphs of Americans, famous and not-so-much, who died during the previous year. But when I pulled the issue from the blue plastic wrapper this morning and thumbed through it, there was a stronger, more personal reaction to one remembrance.

Matt Bai’s piece captures Steve Gilliard’s life beautifully, and leans on his contribution to a national discussion from his perch in East Harlem. As readers know, I was a big Gilliard fan – we were acquaintances and occasional correspondents.

Steve was generosity personified, generous with links and advice; when I launched newcritics.com in January, he eagerly signed on here as an occasional contributor, planning to write about his beloved classic rock.

Sadly, those few, short posts came during the early part of his final illness – but they struck me as yet another example of how it was impossible to buttonhole Gilliard.

He was an angry anti-war progressive with a love for military history, a black guy who dug the Beatles and the Stones, a generous, warm-hearted misanthrope. I think Bai captured the inherent conflicts in Steve’s life that made him so interesting:

It was a life both short and loud. What began with a bad cough just after Valentine’s Day became a spiraling infection that ravaged Gilliard’s vulnerable heart and kidneys, and he spent most of his last four months hospitalized. The identities he kept separate for most of his 42 years collided in the days after he died; the few dozen mostly white bloggers who came to Harlem for the funeral saw for the first time the stark urban setting of Gilliard’s childhood, while his parents and relatives groped to understand what kind of work he had been doing at that computer and why scores of people had come so far to see him off. They must have been confused when Gillyard’s online pals, sickened by the way some right-wing bloggers were gloating over his death, advised them not to disclose where he was buried, out of fear that someone might deface the site. The grave, like Gilliard himself, is known only to a few.

Please read the whole piece. I was saddened to come upon it this morning over my second cup of coffee, but also thrilled that Steve’s prominence in our ongoing discussion was so well-recognized.

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