Radical poet, essayist, educator, theorist and feminist, LGBTQ+, anti-racist and anti-imperialist activist Minnie Bruce Pratt died June 2 in Syracuse, New York surrounded by friends and family members, after a brief and sudden illness. She was 76.
Pratt was born September 12, 1946, in Selma, Alabama and spent her childhood in nearby Centreville with her parents William Luther Pratt, Jr., (a clerk) and Virginia Brown Pratt (a social worker). She graduated from the then-segregated Bibb County High School and, according to her website, "entered the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa a year after George Wallace 'stood in the schoolhouse door'" where she received her BA and was also a Phi Beta Kappa.
Pratt went on to get her Ph.D. in English literature (specializing in Renaissance and 17th century English literature) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While working on her Ph.D., she was also a member, for five years, of the southern feminist writing collective Feminary: A Feminist Journal for the South, Emphasizing Lesbian Visions.
Additionally, as a young adult, Pratt immersed herself in grassroots organizing alongside other women who cared about equality. That work included co-founding the Southeastern lesbian writers conference, WomanWrites in 1977. Pratt later joined the Washington, D.C.-based lesbian direct action group LIPS. She was also the Workers World Party/Mundo Obrero newspaper managing editor.
Pratt was a writing and women's studies professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University for 10 years, where she also co-created and developed the university's first LGBTQ studies program in 2006. Upon her retirement in 2015, the university celebrated her accomplishments at an event called Writing In-Between, Living In-Between.
Prior to her stint at Syracuse University, Pratt was a faculty member at Hamilton College, Union Institute and University in Ohio, University of Maryland, Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Pratt met fellow University of Alabama undergraduate student Marvin E. Weaver II and they quickly bonded over their shared love of poetry. They got married while still in college and she gave birth to their two sons, Ben and Ransom Weaver, while still attending undergraduate and graduate school respectively. While still in the early years of their marriage, Pratt fell in love with another woman, which resulted in emotional and legal nightmares for her, including an eventual divorce in 1975 and losing primary custody of her sons due to her lesbian identity.
After coming out, Pratt started writing poetry. In a 2004 interview, she explained that, "I began writing poetry again when I came out as a lesbian, not because of that specific sexuality, but because I came back to my body, after a time of terrible numbness and self-denial. It's hard to write poetry if you are completely alienated from your body. And coming out as a lesbian brought me back to physical experience in my own body."
Pratt's first poetry volume, The Sound of One Fork, was published in 1981, when she was in a romantic relationship with photographer Joan E. Biren. A second collection of poetry followed in 1985, entitled We Say We Love Each Other. Her third collection of poetry, the 1990 book Crimes Against Nature, is dedicated to and chronicled her relationship with her sons. She received the Academy of American Poets Lamont Poetry Selection Award and the American Library Association Gay and Lesbian Book Award for Literature for Crimes Against Nature. The book was also one of the New York Times Notable Books of the Year.
Pratt wrote about race relations in her fourth volume of poetry, Walking Back Up Depot Street, which was named by ForeWord: Magazine of Independent Bookstores and Booksellers as one of the Best Gay and Lesbian Books of the Year in 2000. She also wrote The Dirt She Ate: Selected and New Poems in 2003, which resulted in a Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry. Pratt's other poetry books included The Money Machine: Selected Poems (2003); Inside the Money Machine (2011) which garnered her the Publishing Triangle's Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry that same year; and finally Magnified in 2021.
Additionally, Pratt co-wrote Yours In Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives in Anti-Semitism and Racism alongside Elly Bulkin and Barbara Smith in 1984. This book was chosen as one of the 100 Best Lesbian and Gay Nonfiction Books by the Publishing Triangle in 2004 and was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. She also wrote Rebellion: Essays 1980-1991 in 1991, a Lambda Literary Awards finalist in non-fiction that year; and the short prose pieces tome S/He in 1995, of which many focused on her romantic relationship with butch lesbian, transgender activist and Stone Butch Blues and Transgender Warriors author Leslie Feinberg. S/He was a 1995 American Library Association Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Book Award finalist for non-fiction.
Pratt and Feinberg began dating in 1992 and remained a couple until Feinberg's death on Nov. 15, 2014. The couple married in 2011 in Massachusetts and New York.
"In 1992 I met Leslie at hir slideshow/lecture in Washington, D.C., where ze spoke on the historical basis for unity among people who experience different oppressionsand where ze read, looking up at me, from hir classic 'Letter to a Fifties Femme,'" Pratt recalled on her website. "Not long after, ze became my 'one and only,' my beloved. Leslie's …. last words [were]: 'Remember me as a revolutionary communist.' I fell in love with Leslie because of hir voice, hir vision and hir revolutionary optimism."
In 1991, Pratt also received the Lillian Hellman-Dashiell Hammett Award from the Fund for Free Expression alongside fellow lesbian writers Chrystos and Audre Lorde. Pratt's other honors included a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry in 1990, the American Voice's Harriet Simpson Arnow Prize for Poetry in 1990, the Poetry Society of America's Lucille Medwick Memorial Award in 2002 and a Fellowship in Poetry from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts in 2005.
Pratt was also a member of the International Action Center, the National Women's Fightback Network and the National Writers Union. Additionally, Pratt appeared in the 1996 film The Transexual Menace.
Pratt is survived by her sons and countless chosen family members and friends. She was preceded in death by Feinberg and her parents.
Longtime friend Mab Segrest said in a Facebook post, "And in these sad days when we are losing so many extraordinary friends, Minnie Bruce Pratt is an extraordinary example of white courage. I have come to despise the discourses on white fragility, because the way we ask the question is the way we get the answer. To read Minnie Bruce Pratt is to get a master class in white courage."
Syracuse University colleague Roger Hallas said in a Facebook post, "Sending deepest condolences to all her loved ones. She was an incredible presence here at [Syracuse University] and inspired us all with her passion, vitality and [creativity]. Above all, she was one of the most generous people I know. Thank you for sharing your brilliance with usits light shines bright in our souls."
The Decatur, Georgia-based Charis Books and More said in a Facebook post, "Minnie-Bruce's words have been a balm and a sword to so many people; especially white Southerners looking for models of active anti-racism, lesbians and femmes who found an articulation of their desires and struggles, communists and class warriors who admired her steadfast commitment to articulating the horrors of capitalism in accessible ways and butches and trans masculine people who found themselves made beautiful through her eyes and through her poetic devotion to her beloved, Leslie Feinberg. … We are heartbroken that she is no longer in this world."
A public celebration of Pratt's life will take place soon. Details will be shared on her website minniebrucepratt.net/ and various social media sites. The family has asked that donations in Pratt's memory should be made to the Friends of Dorothy House in Syracuse at alternative-efforts-ctr-of-cny-inc-friends-of-dorothy.square.site.