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April Freely. Photo: Felli Maynard for the Queer|Art Community Portrait Project.
April Freely. Photo: Felli Maynard for the Queer|Art Community Portrait Project.

April Freely, Director of the Fire Island Artist Residency, Dies Unexpectedly

April Freely, a poet and essayist and the director of the Fire Island Artist Residency (FIAR), died unexpectedly last week. FIAR announced the news of her death July 9 via the organization’s social media accounts. Freely, described by FIAR in a statement as “a caring and thoughtful leader, a passionate organizer, and a wonderful friend,” one who was “committed to supporting LGBTQ poets and artists and expanding access for BIPOC communities,” had been with the organization for less than a year, having assumed her role there in October 2020. Early in her brief tenure, Freely already had big plans for FIAR. “I would love to build our capacity as a resource for LGBTQ artists and writers seeking asylum,” she told Art in America  earlier this year.

Prior to coming to FIAR, Freely had previously worked as a program coordinator at the Vermont Studio Center, one of the nation’s largest artist residency programs, and as the nonfiction editor at Washington Square Review. A graduate of Brown University and of the University of Iowa’s esteemed master’s program in nonfiction writing, she was a faculty member at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, where she taught in the Language and Thinking program. She was the recipient of a 2020–21 Queer Arts Mentorship fellowship in literature and of awards from the Ohio Arts Council, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, the Tulsa Artist Fellowship, and the CUE Art Foundation, among others, and her work appeared in publications including American Poetry ReviewGulf Coast, Kenyon Review, and Ninth Letter. She volunteered as a labor activist and campaigned against gun violence.

From 2008 to 2015, Freely, then in her twenties, nursed her mother, Kathryn, through a heart transplant, cancer, and organ rejection. The ordeal would color her poetry, which the Provincetown Banner  described as “mother-centric.” Kathryn Freely died in April of this year. April Freely described the experience of watching her mother decline in the 2020 poem “Hysteria.” “[I]s my resilience less now than the strength of all mothers before me?,” she wrote. “I’m telling you something’s not right.”

A native of Cleveland, Freely was living in Harlem at the time of her death. A GoFundMe has been set up to pay for funeral expenses.