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Roy McBride.

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Roy McBride, 'cult figure,' beloved poet

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH
  • Star Tribune
  • August 3, 2011 - 6:51 AM

Roy McBride was a people's poet.

For 30 years, he was a Powderhorn Park artist and community leader of the spoken word. Far from the lofty poet, McBride instead used his craft to bring people -- poets or not -- together, according to those who knew him.

McBride died July 29 at age 67.

"He touched so many people," said friend Jeannie Piekos of Minneapolis. "It's not just poets or people from Powderhorn; he worked with people that were academics or taxi drivers who liked poetry."

McBride taught in Minneapolis and St. Paul schools, co-founded Poetry for the People and the Powderhorn Writers Festival, and worked for In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre.

"He was the community's best-kept secret," said Janis Lane-Ewart, executive director of KFAI Radio, where McBride was a frequent contributor. "He was a cult figure within the poetry community."

Earlier this year, filmmaker Mike Hazard of St. Paul released a 30-minute documentary on McBride called "A Poet's Poet." It will be shown at the Twin Cities Black Film Festival on Sept. 17.

"He was among our best [writers]," Hazard said. "He's widely regarded as the old master of spoken word in the community."

McBride fell in love with books and reciting words as a child. The Arkansas native moved to the Twin Cities for a job and attended Macalester College, where he got involved in poetry readings.

He co-founded Poetry for the People, a group of local poets, and started the Powderhorn Writers Festival with Piekos in 1997 to bring artists together.

"He saw all of us as artists," said his wife, Lucinda Anderson.

Indicative of his egalitarian views, McBride made sure that everyone who entered the festival's writing contest won a prize, Piekos said. The event also boosted the image of a neighborhood that was known more for its crime rates.

"It just brought a community together, which is what all Roy's work did," she said. "He loved people and he had a great hope in art and poetry healing and bringing people together."

Amy Ballestad taught with McBride in Minneapolis and St. Paul schools, where she said he could mesmerize unruly sixth-graders with poems.

"Roy saw the beauty in every story," she said. "Kids, especially, really resonated with that."

With a soft, warm voice, McBride would show off his endless improvisation and skillful storytelling with a style that was part minister and musician and part comedian and storyteller, friends say.

"He never told the same poem in the same way twice," Hazard said. "Life was always live for Roy."

Added Laurie Witzkowski of St. Paul, "He was an improvisor of words and of life."

Nine years ago, the family moved to Osceola, Wis., where McBride found a passion for farming, tending to fruit trees or garlic plants. He also took up making papier mâché bowls, selling them at art fairs.

He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease two years ago. A memorial service will be held in September.

Survivors include his wife, 14-year-old daughter Laci McBride of Osceola and sisters Carolyn Sanders and Evelyn Evans of Muskegon, Mich.

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141

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