Vermont Humanities

Resisting Hate Through Poetry

Poet Toussaint St. Negritude reads aloud outdoors in a leather hat with a moon design, a teal jacket, and tortoise shell glasses.

Vermont is not immune to the dangerous times we’re living in.

Just last week, VTDigger reported on systemic racist violence at Peoples Academy in Morrisville and the presence of a neo-Nazi podcaster in Barre. 

Extremist activity targeting Black, brown, Native and LGBTQ+ people is occurring with increasing frequency in communities across Vermont.

On Saturday, June 10, an incident of hate violence in Lyndonville targeted and threatened our partners at the Cobleigh Public Library and our dear colleague, Vermont Humanities Program Officer Toussaint St. Negritude.  Toussaint is a working artist, poet, musician, and active participant in creative and humanistic pursuits across Vermont. He is deeply beloved.

He is also a Black, queer person living in a rural part of Vermont.

The Cobleigh Library of Lyndonville is a critical resource in a small town in the Northeast Kingdom. It is a central fixture of the community and works actively to provide the surrounding area with a safe space to gather, a wide variety of community resources, and a welcoming home for anyone who may feel like they are in need.

Like most libraries, it is understaffed and overworked, and its budget doesn’t cover the community’s needs. But it is open, inclusive and welcoming — to everyone.

Librarian Bryn Hoffman invited poet Toussaint St. Negritude to come to the Cobleigh Library and lead a small Pride Month Poetry Gathering. The event was simple: Community members were invited to bring their favorite poem by an LGBTQ+ poet and read them aloud together in the library.

The event celebrated what poetry and art does best — bringing people together to reveal truth and complexities about the human experience. About six people came, including a young trans person, sharing selections from Audre Lorde, James Baldwin and others.

But this modest Pride Poetry event was disrupted and shut down by a small group of menacing protesters expressing racist and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments and threatening violence. These protesters specifically targeted Toussaint and continued to menace him later in the day, even going so far as to follow him to a second location in town after he left the library.

Although this was not an official Vermont Humanities or Vermont Arts Council event, we stand in solidarity with Toussaint, Bryn, the library staff, and the Lyndonville community against hate violence and extremism. We will always do everything we can to interrupt hate speech and extremism, and we will continue to work to make Vermont a welcoming and safe place for everyone. Hate cannot stop art.

In speaking with Toussaint after the incident, he noted that he would like “to stress that, while my recent experience targeted me in Lyndonville, the extremist movement is a concerted effort throughout the state of Vermont, affecting all parts of Vermont, rural and urban, and well beyond. What happened in Lyndonville is not an isolated occurrence, but a repeating danger happening throughout the state. We must immediately address this horrific threat.”

Toussaint, ever thoughtful, also called out another queer poet who fought against an extremist movement in a different time. Federico García Lorca was murdered by the fascist government of Spain in 1936. His poetry was deeply threatening to the regime of Francisco Franco and, like many other poets and artists before him and after him, he gave his life to speak truth to power.

Let us remember his sacrifice and stand firm that we will never allow hate to triumph again.

And in our small state, with our small libraries, let us also remember the words of Allen Ginsberg, persecuted for both his queerness and his Jewish heritage. From the “Footnote to Howl”: “The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy!”

We all need poets right now, more than ever. We must defend our poets and uplift them. Vermont will be a better place for it.


This commentary is by Christopher Kaufman Ilstrup, executive director of Vermont Humanities, and Susan Evans McClure, executive director of the Vermont Arts Council and was originally published in VTDigger.


We will always do everything we can to interrupt hate speech and extremism, and we will continue to work to make Vermont a welcoming and safe place for everyone. Hate cannot stop art.

Our Commitment to Ongoing Change

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Opportunities to Help

Vermont is not immune to the dangerous times we’re living in. Here are some ways that you can help support our diverse communities here in Vermont,

Strategic Plan 2022-2027

Our communities are living in a time of great transition. To meet the social, environmental, and public health needs of our day, cultural organizations like Vermont Humanities must devote ourselves to transformational thinking, planning, and action.

Vermont Humanities*** June 21, 2023