Angela Bowen died in July 2018. She was 82. Angela Bowen was a dancer, a lesbian, a Black activist, a professor. She packed many lives into her one.
She grew up in Boston, the 6th of 7 children. Angela was a good student who loved sports. She was among the few black girls admitted into Boston’s prestigious Girls Latin School. After one year she changed schools so she could be closer to The Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts. Fourteen was late to begin taking classical ballet, but she loved it and in 1956, two years after she began, Angela danced the pivotal role of the Black Swan at Boston’s Hancock Hall; nearly 60 years before Misty Copeland, the first Black ballerina, performed the role before a national audience.
Wanting to dance more than she wanted to go to college, she joined a traveling jazz group in her early 20s and traveled around Europe. Then in 1963, with her husband at the time, she started the Bowen-Peters School of Dance in New Haven. They purposely placed the school in a low income neighborhood and recruited their students from the same area. The School transformed the lives of hundreds of children for almost 20 years. It provided the city and the state with cultural enrichment for children and parents through their classes, performances, and presentations, throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Visiting choreographers came to set their dances on her students, and African students from Yale University helped teach the Bowen Peters dancers and drummers. In addition, Angela initiated Black History and Culture programs in the New Haven public schools.
In 1982, the couple divorced and Angela came out: “I wanted to live among women who were political and who were lesbians and who were all different kinds of things, who were feminists and who had politics and some kind of sense of the world.” When she moved to Cambridge MA she met Jennifer Lynn Abod who became her long-time partner.
She became very active in the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, became co-editor of their magazine and a board member. She started speaking at rallies and demonstrations. Bowen spoke about revolutionary feminism, Black lesbian and gay life, lesbian parenting, and honoring diversity nationally and internationally. She spoke at rallies and marches at the state house in MA and on national radio and television programs. She was strongly against a Massachusetts state ruling, which prohibited Lesbians and Gays from adopting foster children. Bowen was both a mother and a foster mother.
In her speeches she focused on coalition building, gay and lesbian pride, the importance of “owning your own life, and the intersection of racism, sexism and classism.”
In the 90’s, she earned a doctorate in Women’s Studies doing her dissertation on Audre Lorde, a poet and queer activist, and started teaching. She taught for years at the California State University in Long Beach. Her mission was to introduce and create courses about the experiences of women of color. Angela was the innovator of many course “firsts” including American Ethnic Writers, Black Women in America, the Toni Morrison Seminar, U.S. Women of Color, and Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance. She was also on the Commission on the Status of Women, which focused on gaining equal pay at the university for women and was the advisor for the LGBT Resource Center at the University.
In 2012, “Out of the Blue: Aleta’s Stories” a semi- autobiographical fictional collection of short stories was published.
Throughout all her life, Angela Bowen never stopped being an activist. In 2015, Outside The Frame, a queer film festival organized by QUIT (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism) showed a remarkable film called ‘The Passionate Pursuits of Angela Bowen’. Made by Jennifer Lynn Abod, the film documented the many aspects of her very full life. (www.jenniferabod.com for more info about the film) I never met Angela Bowen but I felt that I could appreciate her greatness from this film.