Born: April 21, 1935
Ohio connection: Resident
Daniel Thompson was born April 21, 1935, in Washington, D.C. The Thompson family moved to the west side of Cleveland, Ohio, shortly after Daniel’s birth. He spent much of his boyhood in Cleveland, but attended high school in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and spent a short time at a seminary in St. Louis. In 1959 he hitchhiked to San Francisco, which was then the epicenter of the Beat movement, and began attending poetry readings and discovering new poets. Shortly after, Thompson moved back to Ohio to attend Fenn College and Kent State. As a student at Kent State in the early 1960s, Thompson had already developed a reputation for having an anti-authoritarian streak. He was known around campus for marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Chicago, being arrested as a Freedom Rider in Jackson, Mississippi, and for a breach of peace for entering the “Negro waiting room” at a Greyhound bus terminal. After moving back to Cleveland, Thompson was a fixture of the local literary scene and contributed poems to various local publications. Thompson co-edited select volumes of the Cleveland periodical ArtCrimes and organized Junkstock, a music, art, and poetry festival at a local junkyard in Cleveland. Thompson also organized many readings around the city, including annual readings of Cleveland poets Langston Hughes, D.A. Levy, and Hart Crane on their respective birthdays. In addition to his literary accomplishments, Thompson also delivered food, blankets, and water out of the trunk of his car to those who lived on the street. One of his last charitable efforts was organizing Cleveland children in an effort to donate a cow to Kenya. After battling Leukemia for several years, Thompson passed away in 2004 at the age of 69. One year after his death, a street in downtown Cleveland was rechristened Daniel’s Way. He was also the subject of a 2008 documentary Famous in the Neighborhood. A collection of his poetry, The Big Book of Daniel, was published in 2011 by Bottom Dog Press.
Thompson was named Poet Laureate of Cuyahoga County in 1992.