Special to the AmNews
Many of Brook Stephenson’s countless friends learned too late of the gathering in his name Thursday at McNally Jackson Bookstore in lower Manhattan. But wherever they were on the planet, their grief and sorrow were warmly extended when they heard of his sudden passing.
Stephenson, 41, collapsed and died suddenly Sunday, Aug. 9 while attending a friend’s wedding reception. A native of Detroit, he had been remarkably productive over the last score of years, amassing an enviable record of accomplishments and a coterie of loyal and devoted friends.
“He was so beautiful,” writer and journalist Demetria Irwin said of her boyfriend. Her impression of Stephenson was echoed by an endless string of condolences and encomiums, reflecting the impact he had registered and was registering on people from around the world.
“His literary world expanded, and he kept on top of the arts and culture scene, contributing through his work,” recalled Maeshay K. Lewis of the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College. “He captured this journey with the sharpness of his camera lens, and he captured our hearts with his smile. I called him my friend. I will miss talking to my friend. I will miss running into my friend at an event and on the streets of Brooklyn.”
Stephenson was a tireless spirit in Brooklyn, seemingly everywhere and no matter where making a critical contribution to a number of literary genres, kitchens, workshops and serving on the committee for the National Black Writers Conference. It was perhaps in this capacity that he came into contact with the ever-fluid world of Black literature, a place where his magnanimous touch and infectious smile always welcomed the stranger and assured the longstanding companion.
He came of age in Motown and attended Gesu Public School and the University of Detroit Jesuit High School, where his prowess as a swimmer made it possible for him to secure a position as a lifeguard at Belle Isle. Later, as a student at Morehouse College, he excelled academically and began cultivating an interest in photography, an endeavor that many of his friends came to appreciate.
But soon the muse of photography had to concede some time and space for his passion for writing, which blossomed exponentially, his imagination shaping short stories and eventually longer works of fiction.
“I found a passion and pursued it mainly through a short fiction for a weekly paper,” he said during an interview. “Is it coincidence that I started writing for the paper six months after I wrote my first piece of prose, or that it opened the door to the entertainment industry and the possibilities therein? Moving to New York City, the process expanded. Getting a passport turned the view panoramic. What did I see? The human condition five times over from the Americas to Europe to the Caribbean. What sort of stories do I tell? Good, juicy, rich ones about characters that remind you of people you know or experiences you’ve had—some are written, others are multimedia.”
These early literary ventures were nurtured during his stint with Rolling Out. A writer there, Yvette Caslin, said, “All who knew Brook knew he was an all-around good guy, who exuded humility and integrity.” She noted that Stephenson’s most recent career move was as director of literature and development at the Clever Agency, a branding company vested in changing the world for fun “one project at a time.”
For more than a decade, Stephenson was employed at McNally Jackson, which seemed a natural conduit to his role as a founder of the Rhode Island Writers Colony, which recently concluded its second successful season. He founded the colony with his brother, John. “I didn’t reinvent anything, but gave access to the process I underwent in the Hudson Valley with six artists across the genres of photography, installation graphic design/graffiti and theater to writers of color,” he explained. “An active ongoing process, both writers cherished time and space to refine and expand works in progress. The colony is not a workshop. It’s time and space with others writers of color to create work contributing to the African-American/African Diaspora literary canon.”
On his Facebook page, poet-actress Syd Stewart wrote, “Brook … as I write this, tears are filling me eyes. I hope you are somewhere with God writing a narrative about how to dance your way through life, through the shadows, through the rain until you find light. I hope you are singing. I hope you are writing poetry with angels remembering how the sun warmed your skin. I hope you remember Brooklyn and the times we watched flicks burning trees and midnight oil.”
These words were probably similar to the ones delivered during the gathering at the bookstore and no doubt will flow again when the memorial service occurs Tuesday, Aug. 18 at Gesu Catholic Church, 17180 Oak Drive, Detroit, MI, 48221. Arrangements for the New York memorial service are still pending, and we will provide the information as soon as it becomes available.
His friends and associates also await his novel, “The Maturation of Moses,” which is being readied for publication.
The family, and among his survivors are his mother, Dianne Stephenson; his sister, Shani Stephenson; his brother, John; his nieces, Shani, Kiara and Neran; his nephews, Anthony and Malik; his New York cousin, Annelle Lewis; and his girlfriend, Demetria Irwin, along with a large host of other cousins, aunts and uncles, requests that you contribute to Brook’s “baby,” the Rhode Island Writers Colony. Checks can be mailed to: Rhode Island Writers Colony, 64 Bridge St., Warren, RI 02885. You may also visit www.brookstephenson.com.