Russell Atkins

Russell Atkins photo

Russell Atkins is a musician, playwright, and poet from Cleveland, Ohio, known primarily for his contributions to American avant garde poetry. He was born in 1926 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.

Trained as a musician and visual artist, Atkins studied at Cleveland College, Cleveland Music School Settlement, Cleveland Institute of Music, Karamu House, and Cleveland School of Art.

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.

Kevin Prufer’s on Atkins, Russell Atkins: On the Life & Work of an American Master is described by bestselling author Robert Fleming:

“…meet Russell Atkins, an American original, whose works have been neglected and ignored. Learn about this unconventional elder and see why he turned the literary and music world upside down. This is a historic, intellectually challenging book to digest slowly and savor.”

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, where he still resides today.

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2 Books by Russell Atkins