We are sad to say that our friend and BMC alumnus Michael Rumaker has died on June 3rd, 2019. His obituary notice can be found here.
Michael enrolled at BMC in fall of 1952 and graduated (one of the few!) in 1955. His journey to and through Black Mountain College is beautifully detailed in the memoir Black Mountain Days, published in 2003 by BMCM+AC. Michael wrote many books and poems and was open and eloquent about his process of coming out as a gay man and as a serious writer. Below are excerpts of Michael’s own words from an oral history interview with David Hopes in 1999.
“And also the sense of time there [at BMC] was stretched because you didn’t have to rush to class. There were no bells except the dinner gong. You were given the freedom to investigate and research and work on what you wanted to do on your own, you were given time. That was a valuable thing which most Americans don’t have and have less of it anymore, but at Black Mountain you had that enormous stretch of time and leisure and time to contemplate and meditate and think about things and absorb and listen and talk to. . . despite the smallness of the faculty, the number of faculty and so forth at institutes, there is time to listen and take in and question and challenge and to read. The luxury of having the time at Black Mountain College library to reach all those things that Charles Olson recommended, personally recommended to me, that was a great richness […] and begin to say, well, what is it I can do here, what can I learn here, and of course what I wanted to learn was to write. And that opportunity was very…was there. The people were there, the place was there, and so I was really, actually a very rich person.
I don’t mean to make it sound like Black Mountain was a paradise for. . . it was in many ways a paradise, the hell end of paradise, but it was certainly a place where you could be. It was certainly a very, very unusual place in America. We have to remember the context of the times. It’s hard for some younger people to imagine what that repression was like at that time, but not just for gay people, for a lot of people in America. While at the same time the 1950s is given short shrift because there were a lot of things going on, they just weren’t apparent to people. Like for instance, Black Mountain is certainly just one instance I think of things that were really beginning to happen in America. That weren’t what was extant at the general stream society about repression and people terrified of being accused of communism, certainly being accused of being queer. But that relaxed me. I was able to feel sexually comfortable there, I was able to feel a freedom and openness as a sexual person as well as in my mind and in my imagination and ability to learn and take in and be open to all sorts of things. It was a very receptive time for me. And you can take that all ways you want, and that in spite of fact of the contradictions that were also at Black Mountain, the machismo, the part of the myth, all that other stuff that I’ve written about, others have written about as well. Still, there was that ‘live and let live’ attitude.
As Ed Dorn said – even at Black Mountain we were all misfits, right? But that’s the way it is. You have to all risk then being misfits too, you know, together. What a seemingly confusing anarchic kind of situation that is, and yet it’s like one’s moving toward a realization of ways to do things in different ways and see things in different ways and understand things in different ways, right?”