This past week I have been walking around in a daze. Ever since the Friday after Thanksgiving where weird energy invaded my space (kitchen light bulb going out as I was about to tackle piles of Thanksgiving dinner dishes; dropping things; bumping into things and tripping all that morning). I came to find out last Sunday, through an ominous text message from a friend, that my colleague, Dr. Gregory Jerome Hampton, passed on the Friday morning after having a great Thanksgiving dinner with his two young children and wife. It was his wife Maria, a pediatric physician who also works in women’s sexual health at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, who could not wake him and discovered her beloved husband deceased at 51.
I was shook by such an untimely death of a colleague in my department at Howard University who was revered by his peers, admired by his students and loved by his many friends and family members and colleagues from all walks of life. Greg hails from the Meridian, Mississippi, made famous by the Civil Rights Movement and Alice Walker’s novel “Meridian”. Greg was later raised in Cleveland, Ohio, went on to study at Oberlin College and Yale and Duke Universities, respectively.
At Howard, Greg was a full professor who taught Black literature courses and mentored graduate students as Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of English. He met his equally brilliant wife, Dr. Maria Trent, while studying at Duke University in North Carolina. He subsequently was hired at Howard and they had two wonderful children and were leading a beautiful family life together in Maryland before he became an Ancestor prematurely. Greg was one of the first Octavia Butler scholars in the country.
A jazz musician, poet and scholar, Greg’s wide-ranging work was published in the “English Journal”, the “College Language Association Journal”, “Children’s Literature in Education: An International Quarterly”, “Obsidian III”, and “Callaloo”. His groundbreaking speculative criticism can be gleaned from his published books: “Changing Bodies in the Fiction of Octavia Butler: Slaves, Aliens, and Vampires and Imagining Slave sand Robots in Literature, Film and Popular Culture: Reinventing Yesterday’s Slaves with Tomorrow’s Robots” (both from Lexington Books).
Greg has a forthcoming book that will excite Octavia Butler heads: “The Bloomsbury Handbook to Octavia Butler” (2020). When he was looking for a publisher for his first Octavia Butler book, he was having a hard time and a bit down on his work. I urged him to send it to my friend and fellow poet Dr. Melba Joyce Boyd who was either an editor or on the board of Wayne State University Press at the time. I told him he was doing groundbreaking work; that his was going to be the first Octavia Butler scholarly takes; and that anyone doing research on Butler had to come through his books. I said, Bro, all roads lead to your book. I say book because I know for a fact that it WILL get published! He went on to publish it with Lexington Books, but told me Melba’s critiques really helped him shape it.
I feel so bad for Greg’s wife and kids and his family and friends and my fellow colleagues and his students who lost their great professor at the tail end of the semester. This must be so surreal to them to lose such a young professor who they identified with and who has mentored them through their English studies at Howard. Suffice it to say that Howard University is more than just a famous Black space and place of higher learning and a legacy of Black achievement and historical import. It’s a community. It’s a family. And as Greg’s beloved family, friends, students and colleagues, mourn him this morning. I am dismayed that I will not be able to join Howard faculty in the procession at Dunbarton Chapel at Howard University School of Law in Washington, DC, for I am on literary duty in Dallas, Texas, at the African American Museum.
Greg leaves us two weeks after his 51st birthday much too, much too soon. He is now an Ancestor whose literary criticism, curiosity and ideas will be with us for generations to come. He is immensely loved and will be greatly missed by many. May he Rest in Power Poetry and Peace. Brotherly.