Profile: Russell Atkins (1925-)

Russell Atkins  is a musician, playwright, poet, and composer from Cleveland, Ohio, known primarily for his contributions to American avant gardepoetry. He was born in Cleveland and raised on Cleveland’s east side by three women – his mother, his grandmother, and his aunt Mae – after his father deserted the family. The family resided in Atkins’ aunt Mae’s home.

His plays The Abortionist and The Corpse debuted in 1954. Following this, he founded Free Lance, A Magazine of Poetry and Prose in 1950 with his friend, Adelaide Simon, with the first issue containing an introduction by Langston Hughes. It attracted writers from all over the world, leading the now-defunct Black World to call it “the only Black literary magazine of national importance in existence.” In 1959 Free Lance Press began publishing books, with a volume of poetry from Conrad Kent Rivers. Free Lance was under Atkins leadership for more than two decades, and allowed Atkins to correspond with writers from across the country.

Russell Atkins resided in his aunt Mae’s house on Cleveland’s East Side for 62 years, until 2010, when the city took possession and demolished it. Afterward, he moved into the Fenway Manor apartments near Case Western Reserve University.

In 2017 the City of Cleveland granted a portion of Grand Avenue the supplementary name “Russell Atkins Way” in his honor.

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