Saturday, December 29, 2007

NY Times Magazine: Steven Gilliard Jr.

Steve Gilliard.
NY Times Magazine photo courtesy of the Gilliard family.

Our Friend & Mentor, Steve Gilliard

God, I miss Gilly.

Every day, every week.

There's a tendency to put the dead up on pedestals. It isn't like that.

I'll be writing an article, reading a comment, talking to Hubris, Sara, LM or Jen... and suddenly Gilly is there, so real, so present, so alive.

He always knew what to say, what to post, and his writing came from his heart.

Jen told me earlier this month I'd written something which was the most Gilly-like thing I'd ever done, that she could hear his voice... and I burst into tears. Couldn't stop crying for almost ten minutes.

He guides us every day. We write, because he gave us space on The News Blog to grow and develop. In our talking with him, what of ours he posted or didn't, he taught us all editorial judgment.

Now The New York Times has recognized the worth of this good man, with an article in the Sunday Times Magazine in "The Lives They Lived" series. I encourage you to go read the entire article.

The New York Times

Steven Gilliard Jr. | b. 1964
Invisible Blogger

Published: December 30, 2007

The sidewalks of Harlem’s main thoroughfares are wide and inviting, and in the 1960s the kids playing “boxball” shared the asphalt squares with some of the greatest orators in creation. The most famous spot for speechifying was the “Speakers’ Corner” outside Lewis Michaux’s bookstore on 125th Street, where Malcolm X delivered his lectures on race and politics. On weekends or after work, fathers took their boys down to the corners in Harlem to watch any number of would-be firebrands engaged in emotional debate over Vietnam or the state of race relations or Bobby Kennedy’s political future.

Steve Gilliard was born into this Harlem and took it all in, but he wouldn’t find his voice on the corners. He was quiet, bookish, overweight. He won entrance to an elite high school, where he passed his time reading obscure military histories, then studied history and journalism at New York University. He found his true calling, though, on the Internet.

*** *** ***

Eventually he created his own site — “Steve was a big personality, and it was clear he needed his own stage,” Daily Kos’s creator, Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga, later wrote — and became one of a small group of early political bloggers with his own devoted following (and a self-sustaining, if modest, income from ads). On Gilliard’s “News Blog,” along with the partisan attacks on Republicans that made him a hated figure on the conservative blogs, he specialized in applying history to the present day, which made him an unusual and distinctive voice. In 2004, he banged out a remarkable 37-part series, the equivalent of about 200 typed pages, chronicling the foibles of European colonialism.

Though Gilliard, unlike many bloggers, always used his real name, few readers knew much about him. They didn’t know, for instance, that at age 39 he had open-heart surgery to repair an infected valve. They didn’t know he lived alone in a small apartment in East Harlem. And, although Gilliard often wrote about race and alluded to his own perspective, a lot of readers never realized he was black.

*** *** ***

It was a life both short and loud. What began with a bad cough just after Valentine’s Day became a spiraling infection that ravaged Gilliard’s vulnerable heart and kidneys, and he spent most of his last four months hospitalized. The identities he kept separate for most of his 42 years collided in the days after he died; the few dozen mostly white bloggers who came to Harlem for the funeral saw for the first time the stark urban setting of Gilliard’s childhood, while his parents and relatives groped to understand what kind of work he had been doing at that computer and why scores of people had come so far to see him off.

There's more...
It's a nice article. I'm especially thankful for the article as it will mean so much to the Gilliard family.

I'm also appreciative that the Times recognizes the impact Steve had on the early political blogosphere, and the hole his passing left in progressive politics.

Gently, I think it important to correct a few mistakes in Matt Bai's article.

Many of the bloggers and other friends of Steve who came to Gilly's funeral were non-white. Many of them had in fact, been above 96th Street into Harlem before.

There was (and is) a semi-regular (when the mood and weather is fine) group of fairly prominent and up-and-coming New York bloggers who meet for barbecue and beer -- The Liberal Barbecue Conspiracy. Gilly named them. He saw who they were, and they saw him. Who he was, how he lived, what he was about. Some of the photographs in Gilly's funeral program came from a rainy afternoon the Barbecue Conspiracy all spent at the Bohemian Beer Hall hanging out, chilling. These people were pals.

For Matt Bai to hang the article's hook on how Gilly was a lonely black man who only could make it with white bloggers on-line who didn't know the real Gilly at all is, quite simply, bullshit. Markos isn't white. And neither were a number of other folks who came to the funeral. Matt Bai has that part of the story wrong.

Matt Bai was also wrong about Steve's life. Gilly didn't lead a lonely life. It was rich and filled day to day with his work, family, friends and sports. From his niece and nephew, his mother and father, to his co-publisher Jen, and the bloggers and friends he hung out with on a regular basis in person and on-line, this was a man who had a full, rich life. I've got an email from a national blogger who just read the Times story and wrote me saying, "Honestly, the man knew where in my kitchen I kept my knives." (She'd also been to Harlem before the funeral.) She was Gilly's friend, and he was a friend to her and to many others.

Gilly was a good friend, an amazing writer, and a mentor to more people than he knew.

We love him, we miss him, and we will always cherish him.

Rest in peace, Gilly. We love you.