[Marxism] Tribute to Franklin Rosemont

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Apr 16 10:10:04 MDT 2009

Counterpunch, April 16, 2009
Poet, Historian, Surrealist Activist
The Surreal Life of Franklin Rosemont


Franklin Rosemont, celebrated poet, artist, historian, street speaker, 
and surrealist activist, died Sunday, April 12 in Chicago.  He was 65 
years old.  With his partner and comrade, Penelope Rosemont, and 
lifelong friend Paul Garon, he co-founded the Chicago Surrealist Group, 
an enduring and adventuresome collection of characters that would make 
the city a center for the reemergence of that movement of artistic and 
political revolt.  Over the course of the following four decades, 
Franklin and his Chicago comrades produced a body of work, of 
declarations, manifestos, poetry, collage, hidden histories, and other 
interventions that has, without doubt, inspired an entirely new 
generation of revolution in the service of the marvelous.

Franklin Rosemont was born in Chicago on October 2, 1943 to two of the 
area’s more significant rank-and-file labor activists, the printer Henry 
Rosemont and the jazz musician Sally Rosemont. Dropping out of Maywood 
schools after his third year of high school (and instead spending 
countless hours in the Art Institute of Chicago’s library learning about 
surrealism), he managed nonetheless to enter Roosevelt University in 
1962. Already radicalized through family tradition, and his own 
investigation of political comics, the Freedom Rides, and the Cuban 
Revolution, Franklin was immediately drawn into the stormy student 
movement at Roosevelt.

Looking back on those days, Franklin would tell anyone who asked that he 
had “majored in St. Clair Drake” at Roosevelt.  Under the mentorship of 
the great African American scholar, he began to explore much wider 
worlds of the urban experience, of racial politics, and of historical 
scholarship—all concerns that would remain central for him throughout 
the rest of his life. He also continued his investigations into 
surrealism, and soon, with Penelope, he traveled to Paris in the winter 
of 1965 where he found André Breton and the remaining members of the 
Paris Surrealist Group.  The Parisians were just as taken with the young 
Americans as Franklin and Penelope were with them, as it turned out, and 
their encounter that summer was a turning point in the lives of both 
Rosemonts.  With the support of the Paris group, they returned to the 
United States later that year and founded America’s first and most 
enduring indigenous surrealist group, characterized by close study and 
passionate activity and dedicated equally to artistic production and 
political organizing.  When Breton died in 1966, Franklin worked with 
his wife, Elisa, to put together the first collection of André’s 
writings in English.

Active in the 1960s with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the 
Rebel Worker group, the Solidarity Bookshop and Students for a 
Democratic Society, Franklin helped to lead an IWW strike of blueberry 
pickers in Michigan in 1964, and put his considerable talents as a 
propagandist and pamphleteer to work producing posters, flyers, 
newspapers, and broadsheets on the SDS printing press.  A long and 
fruitful collaboration with Paul Buhle began in 1970 with a special 
surrealist issue of Radical America. Lavish, funny, and barbed issues of 
Arsenal/Surrealist Subversion and special issues of Cultural 
Correspondence were to follow.

The smashing success of the 1968 World Surrealist Exhibition at Gallery 
Bugs Bunny in Chicago announced the ability of the American group to 
make a huge cultural impact without ceasing to be critics of the frozen 
mainstreams of art and politics. The Rosemonts soon became leading 
figures in the reorganization of the nation’s oldest labor press, 
Charles H. Kerr Company. Under the mantle of the Kerr Company and its 
surrealist imprint Black Swan Editions, Franklin edited and printed the 
work of some of the most important figures in the development of the 
political left: C.L.R. James, Marty Glaberman, Benjamin Péret and 
Jacques Vaché, T-Bone Slim, Mother Jones, Lucy Parsons, and, in a new 
book released just days before Franklin’s death, Carl Sandburg.  In 
later years, he created and edited the Surrealist Histories series at 
the University of Texas Press, in addition to continuing his work with 
Kerr Co. and Black Swan.

A friend and valued colleague of such figures as Studs Terkel, Mary Low, 
the poets Philip Lamantia, Diane di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and 
Dennis Brutus, the painter Lenora Carrington, and the historians Paul 
Buhle, David Roediger, John Bracey, and Robin D.G. Kelley, Rosemont’s 
own artistic and creative work was almost impossibly varied in 
inspirations and results. Without ever holding a university post, he 
wrote or edited more than a score of books while acting as a great 
resource for a host of other writers.

He became perhaps the most productive scholar of labor and the left in 
the United States. His spectacular study, Joe Hill: The I.W.W. and the 
Making of a Revolutionary Workingclass Counterculture, began as a slim 
projected volume of that revolutionary martyr’s rediscovered cartoons 
and grew to giant volume providing our best guide to what the early 
twentieth century radical movement was like and what radical history 
might do. His coedited volume Haymarket Scrapbook stands as the most 
beautifully illustrated labor history publication of the recent past. 
Indispensable compendiums like The Big Red Songbook, What is 
Surrealism?, Menagerie in Revolt, and the forthcoming Black Surrealism 
are there to ensure that the legacy of the movements that inspired him 
continue to inspire young radicals for generations to come. In none of 
this did Rosemont separate scholarship from art, or art from revolt. His 
books of poetry include Morning of the Machine Gun, Lamps Hurled at the 
Stunning Algebra of Ants, The Apple of the Automatic Zebra’s Eye and 
Penelope. His marvelous fierce, whimsical and funny artwork—to which he 
contributed a new piece every day—graced countless surrealist 
publications and exhibitions.

Indeed, between the history he himself helped create and the history he 
helped uncover, Franklin was never without a story to tell or a book to 
write—about the IWW, SDS, Hobohemia in Chicago, the Rebel Worker, about 
the past 100 years or so of radical publishing in the US, or about the 
international network of Surrealists who seemed to always be passing 
through the Rosemonts’ Rogers Park home.  As engaged with and excited by 
new surrealist and radical endeavors as he was with historical ones, 
Franklin was always at work responding to queries from a new generation 
of radicals and surrealists, and was a generous and rigorous 
interlocutor.  In every new project, every revolt against misery, with 
which he came into contact, Franklin recognized the glimmers of the free 
and unfettered imagination, and lent his own boundless creativity to 
each and every struggle around him, inspiring, sustaining, and teaching 
the next generation of surrealists worldwide.

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