Home > Bronx County Archives Finding Aids > Gil Fagiani Papers, 1940–2021

Gil Fagiani Papers, 1940–2021

Information, Description, and Finding Aid

Collection Information

Reference: MS-FAGIANI.1–2

Dates: 1940–2021 (bulk 1970–2017)

Physical Extent: 2.0 linear ft. across 2 archival boxes

Digital Extent: 91.5 MB

Digital collection available

Finding Aid Information

Creator(s): Steven Payne, Ph.D., Librarian and Archivist

Date created/updated: August 9, 2021

Biography

Gil Fagiani (1945–2018) was a poet, translator, essayist, short-story writer, memoirist, revolutionary, father, husband, and mental healthcare worker. During the first half of the twentieth century, his Italian immigrant family had settled in a small Italian community situated around Villa Avenue in the Bedford Park section of The Bronx. However, Gil's father was still in the military when Gil was born in 1945. As a result, Gil was not born in The Bronx, but the family soon resettled to their old Bronx neighborhood after his birth. By the time Gil was six, his family had relocated to Stamford, Connecticut, as part of the steady stream of white families leaving The Bronx at that moment in time. Nevertheless, when Gil was in his late teenage years, he made the conscious decision to resettle in New York City, first in El Barrio as a community organizer, then, as he developed a worsening heroin addiction, in The Bronx as a part of Logos, a state-run residential "therapeutic community" for recovering heroin addicts at Lincoln Hospital.

According to his own reflections, Gil had already identified as a revolutionary when he was living in El Barrio. However, it was at Lincoln Hospital, as a part of Logos, that Gil and other recovering heroin addicts became a part of a wider movement at that time for community control over drug rehabilitation programs. In one of the most dramatic expressions of this movement, in the Fall of 1970, a group of Young Lords, Black Panthers, and radical doctors and healthcare professionals at Lincoln Hospital took over a wing of the Nurses' Residence and established the Lincoln Detox Clinic, which ran as a community-controlled detoxification treatment center for eight years—until Mayor Koch effectively shut it down in 1978 by putting the program back under city control. In 1971, Gil and other members of Logos, for their part, broke off from their therapeutic community at Lincoln Hospital to form Spirit of Logos, which sought to give back control to residents over their own rehabilitation in the context of explicit political consciousness-building (something Logos had strictly avoided). Within a short amount of time, Black and Latino members of Spirit of Logos wished to form their own caucuses, to organize amongst their own communities, and the white residents of the community formed the White Lightning Section of Spirit of Logos.

It was from this grouping that White Lightning emerged as a revolutionary organization specifically aimed at organizing the poor and working-class white communities of The Bronx. Because of its background, White Lightning focused much of its attention on combatting both the heroin epidemic and the emerging "War Against Drugs" in The Bronx. Like the Black Panthers and Young Lords in New York City, White Lightning drew much of its theory in this struggle from Mike "Cetewayo" Tabor's pamphlet, Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide. As Cetewayo and others at the time argued, there was no feasible way that common street pushers could get the massive volume of heroin into places like The Bronx on their own. The tremendous influx of drugs into urban communities in the 1960s and 1970s had to come from elsewhere, with the assistance of others richer and far more powerful. It seemed curious, to say the least, that the U.S. government at the time had involved itself so intimately in the geopolitics of areas of the world—Afghanistan and Southeast Asia, for instance—where much of the global opiate trade was situated. At any rate, like Cetewayo and others, White Lightning saw the heroin epidemic as part of a larger strategy of U.S. imperialism to pacify resistance in urban areas like The Bronx—at the cost of massive human suffering. Those who did not die from overdose or street violence as a direct result of heroin could be easily rounded up and thrown into prison on minor possession charges, kept in punitive rehabilitation programs, or be manipulated to infiltrate and inform on resistance movements.

White Lightning also raised questions about the democratic use and control of public areas, especially parks, in New York City, and engaged in campaigns to inform Bronx tenants about their rights and organize them against particularly abusive landlords (of which there were plenty). Some members of White Lightning, looking to the Black Panthers and Young Lords as models, idealized a strict military-command organizational structure. Others wanted to keep decision-making in the organization as collective and lateral as possible, especially given its relatively small size. By 1975, the first group had won out, aligning White Lightning briefly with emerging currents in the New Communist Movement. It also had become increasingly difficult for members of White Lightning who were starting families and entering the workforce at the time to devote large amounts of time to the organization. This is when Gil and others left White Lightning to move on to other pursuits.

Gil, for his part, started a family and began working as an overnight mental healthcare worker at the Bronx Psychiatric Center. He remained in this role for the rest of the 1970s and much of the 1980s. It was near the end of his time at the Bronx Psychiatric Center that Gil met his second wife and lifelong partner, Maria Lisella, who lived in Queens. Gil soon quit his physically and emotionally taxing job at the Bronx Psychiatric Center and moved out to Queens. He began working in a residential treatment program for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts in Brooklyn and worked there for 21 years.

It was during this stage in his life that Gil began to blossom as a poet, memoirist, essayist, translator, scholar, and short-story wrtier. During his lifetime he published eight books of poetry, three chapbooks, as well as multiple essays and translations. Publication of his memoir, Boogaloo Barrio, is pending, as are several manuscripts he left behind, including one that he collaborated on with his wife (and Queens Poet Laureate) Maria Lisella

Gil passed away on April 12, 2018. Fittingly, he is buried between two of his heroes—representatives of the progressive New York Italian-American heritage he embodied—Vito Marcantonio and Fiorello LaGuardia.

Description/Scope and Content

The collection is organized in the following seven series:

1) General Files, which is comprised of subject files, research, and notes on a variety of topics related to The Bronx and political activism.

2) Bronx Psychiatric Center, which includes documents from the years that Gil Fagiani spent working at the Bronx Psychiatric Center.

3) White Lightning, which contains original documents from and research articles on White Lightning, the revolutionary Bronx group that Gil Fagiani helped start in 1971 (see above for information).

4) Writings By and About Gil, which includes manuscripts and published writings by and about Gil Fagiani.

5) Newspapers and periodicals, which comprises issues of various revolutionary/radical journals as well as scattered physical copies and the entire digital run (minus no. 31) of White Lightning (the newspaper published by White Lightning).

6) Pamphlets, which includes revolutionary/radical pamphlets from the library of White Lightning as well as selections from Gil's personal collection.

7) Books, which includes revolutionary/radical publications from the library of White Lightning as well as selections from Gil's personal collection.

Provenance

The Gil Fagiani papers were donated to the Society by Gil's widow, Maria Lisella, on July 18, 2021.

Preferred Citation

[Item name or description,] The Gil Fagiani papers, box _, folder _, The Bronx County Archives at The Bronx County Historical Society Research Library.

Points of Access

  • Community organizing
  • Drug detoxification -- Lincoln Hospital -- Logos -- Spirit of Logos
  • Immigrants and migration -- Italians
  • Individuals -- Anderson, Kirsten -- Bailey, Bruce -- Bild, Gene -- Doyle, Terry -- Duffy, John -- Fagiani, Gil -- Huggins, Ericka -- Lebron, Lolita -- Lenin, Vladimir -- Lisella, Maria -- Mao, Zedong -- Marcantonio, Vito -- Newton, Huey -- Rotondo, Gerald (Gerry) -- Seale, Bobby -- Stalin, Joseph -- Taft, Richard -- Tracey, James -- Whalen, Bill -- Whitney, David
  • Labor movement and trade unionism
  • Mental healthcare -- Bronx Psychiatric Center
  • Music -- Boogaloo -- Doo-wop -- rock and roll -- salsa
  • Neighborhoods (The Bronx, New York) -- Bedford Park -- Kingsbridge -- Hunts Point -- Longwood -- Norwood -- Westchester Square
  • Neighborhoods (Manhattan, New York) -- East Harlem (El Barrio)
  • Radicalism -- anti-imperialism -- Black Panther Party -- communism -- Communist Party U.S.A. (C.P.U.S.A.) -- drug detoxification, community control -- Irish nationalism -- Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.) -- New Communist movement -- policing, community control -- Puerto Rican independence movement -- Spirit of Logos -- White Lightning -- Young Lords Party
  • Poetry
  • Publications -- The Communist -- Forward Motion -- Italian-American News-- Masses & Mainstream -- Mainstream -- Political Affairs -- White Lightning

Related Collections

  1. At Home in Utopia collection. The Bronx County Archives at The Bronx County Historical Society Research Library.
  2. Argote Family papers. The Bronx County Archives at The Bronx County Historical Society Research Library.
  3. Bill Bigelow papers. The Bronx County Archives at The Bronx County Historical Society Research Library.
  4. Bronx Political Campaigns collection. The Bronx County Archives at The Bronx County Historical Society Research Library.
  5. Rev. Wendell Foster papers. The Bronx County Archives at The Bronx County Historical Society Research Library.
  6. Murray Lerner papers. The Bronx County Archives at The Bronx County Historical Society Research Library.
  7. Hansel L. McGee papers. The Bronx County Archives at The Bronx County Historical Society Research Library.
  8. Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition records. The Bronx County Archives at The Bronx County Historical Society Research Library.
  9. Jackie Robinson papers. The Bronx County Archives at The Bronx County Historical Society Research Library.
  10. Mel Rosenthal papers. The Bronx County Archives at The Bronx County Historical Society Research Library.
  11. South Bronx Churches records. The Bronx County Archives at The Bronx County Historical Society Research Library.
  12. Gelvin Stevenson papers on Arson and Housing Abandonment. The Bronx County Archives at The Bronx County Historical Society Research Library.
  13. Millicent S. Thayer papers. The Bronx County Archives at The Bronx County Historical Society Research Library.
  14. Urban League, Bronx Branch Records. The Bronx County Archives at The Bronx County Historical Society Research Library.

Series

Series Title Box Folders
1 General Files 1 1–20
2 Bronx Psychiatric Center 1 21–31
3 White Lightning 1 32–35
4 Writings By/About Gil 1 36–53
5 Newspapers and Periodicals 1 54–84
6 Pamphlets 2 1–19
7 Books (White Lightning and Personal Library) 2 20–40

Container List

Series 1: General files

Box

Folder

Contents

Date

1

1

74th Congress (1935–1936)

n.d.

1

2

Bailey, Bruce (Tenant Organizer)

1989

1

3

Becoming a U.S. Citizen

2007

1

4

Brood (White street gang in Portland)

2017

1

5

Bronx, clippings

1986–2015

1

6

Bronx, contacts

n.d.

1

7

Bronx, Doo-wop research

2014

1

8

Bronx, maps and brochures

n.d.

1

9

Bronx Miracle (Villa Avenue)

2000

1

10

Bronx, programs and events

2014–2016

1

11

Bronx Speaks Up

n.d.

1

12

Calendar (The Guardian)

1977

1

13

Covello, Leonardo (Left Forum)

2016

1

14

History of U.S. Left

1985–1990

1

15

Lebron, Lolita (correspondence)

1972

1

16

Personal

1974–2015

1

17

Newton, Huey

1989

1

18

Political committees and organizations

1979–1990

1

19

Woodlawn Cemetery

2012

1

20

Young Lords Party

1996–2004

Born Digital Materials

Digital ID

Contents

Date
MS-FAGIANI-BD001.001.001

New York Greasers, Gangs, and Clubs (website)

n.d.

Series 2: Bronx Psychiatric Center

Box

Folder

Contents

Date

1

21

Bronx Psychiatric Center, General information

n.d.

1

22

Bronx Psychiatric Center, Clippings

1979–1989

1

23

Bronx Psychiatric Center, Bronx Update (newsletter)

1987

1

24

Bronx Psychiatric Center, Employment files

1973–1986

1

25

Bronx Psychiatric Center, Life and Death at the Bronx Psychiatric Center (report)

1977

1

26

Bronx Psychiatric Center, Memos

1976–1984

1

27

Bronx Psychiatric Center, Miscellaneous

1985

1

28

Bronx Psychiatric Center, Organizing and issues

1979–1985

1

29

Bronx Psychiatric Center, Patients

1978–1980

1

30

Bronx Psychiatric Center, Research articles

1970–1971

1

31

Bronx Psychiatric Center, Writings and reflections

n.d.

Series 3: White Lightning

Box

Folder

Contents

Date

1

32

White Lightning: Reading lists

n.d.

1

33

White Lightning: Tracy, James, Rising Up (article)

2010

1

34

White Lightning: Feature story (Midnight Special)

April 1972

1

35

White Lightning: Whitney, David, on White Lightning

2012

Born Digital Materials

Digital ID

Contents

Date
MS-FAGIANI-BD001.003.001

White Lightning: The People’s Doctor Murdered (Dr. Richard Taft)

1974

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.003.002

White Lightning: Whitney, David, email correspondence

n.d.

Series 4: Writings By and About Gil

Box

Folder

Contents

Date

1

36

“Babe” (manuscript)

2017

1

37

“Bombolesence” (manuscript)

1997

1

38

Boogaloo Barrio, Epilogue, on East Harlem gentrification (manuscript)

2017

1

39

“The Bronx” (manuscript)

2015

1

40

“The Bronx (1946–1950)” (manuscript)

2015

1

41

“Dodson and Gil: An Adversary Relationship,” on Bronx Psychiatric Center (manuscript)

1985?

1

42

“Gil Fagiani: Friend, Mentor, Activist, Poet,” tribute in Italian American Review

2021

1

43

“Gil Fagiani: In Memoriam,” tribute in Journal of Italian Translation

2019

1

44

“Idee per scrittura” (manuscript)

n.d.

1

45

“An Italian American on the Left: Drugs, Revolution, and Ethnicity in the 1970s,” Italian Americans in a Multi-Cultural Society

1994

1

46

“Notas cubanay” (manuscript)

2003

1

47

[Reflections on living in The Bronx in the 1980s] (untitled manuscript)

1985

1

48

“Reflection on My Experience in Logos, 1969–1971,” Benessere Psicologico

2013

1

49

Rotondo, Gerry, visit with and writings (manuscript)

2016

1

50

“Serfs of Psychiatry” (incomplete manuscript)

n.d.

1

51

“What Does It Mean to Be White in America,” background material

2016–2017

1

52

“What Does It Mean to Be White in America: My Multi-Metamorphoses,” What Does It Mean to Be White in America

2016

1

53

“White Lightning: Organizing the White Working Class in The Bronx, 1971–1975” (manuscript)

2011

Born Digital Materials

Digital ID

Contents

Date
MS-FAGIANI-BD001.004.001

East Harlem and Vito Marcantonio: My Search for a Progressive Italian-American Identity

n.d.

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.004.002

Sacco and Vanzetti, the Italian Ancestors of Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins

1971

Series 5: Newspapers and periodicals

Box

Folder

Contents

Date

1

54

The Communist

December 1944

1

55

Italian-American News, vol. 1, no. 2

December 1970

1

56

Italian-American News, vol. 2, no. 8

October 1971

1

57

Forward Motion

October–November 1985

1

58

Masses & Mainstream

May 1949

1

59

Masses & Mainstream

July 1954

1

60

Masses & Mainstream

January 1955

1

61

Masses & Mainstream

November 1955

1

62

Masses & Mainstream

May 1956

1

63

Mainstream

March 1959

1

64

Political Affairs

Feb. 1956

1

65

White Lightning, no. 1

[1971]

1

66

White Lightning, no. 6

June–July 1972

1

67

White Lightning, no. 7

July–August 1972

1

68

White Lightning, no. 7

July–August 1972

1

69

White Lightning, no. 8

August–September 1972

1

70

White Lightning, no. 10

November 1972

1

71

White Lightning, no. 15

April 1973

1

72

White Lightning, no. 16

May 1973

1

73

White Lightning, no. 18

July 1973

1

74

White Lightning, no. 19

September 1973

1

75

White Lightning, no. 20

October 1973

1

76

White Lightning, no. 21

November 1973

1

77

White Lightning, no. 22

December 1973

1

78

White Lightning, no. 25

March 1974

1

79

White Lightning, no. 25

March 1974

1

80

White Lightning, no. 26

May 1974

1

81

White Lightning, no. 26

May 1974

1

82

White Lightning, no. 28

August–September 1974

1

83

White Lightning, no. 28

August–September 1974

1

84

White Lightning, no. 27 [no. 29]

November–December 1974

Born Digital Materials

Digital ID

Contents

Date
MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.001

White Lightning, no. 1

[1971]

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.002

White Lightning, unnumbered [no. 2]

[1971]

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.003

White Lightning, no. 3

January 1972

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.004

White Lightning, no. 4

February–March 1972

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.005

White Lightning, no. 5

April–May 1972

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.006

White Lightning, no. 6

June–July 1972

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.007

White Lightning, no. 7

July–August 1972

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.008

White Lightning, no. 8

August–September 1972

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.009

White Lightning, no. 9

October–November 1972

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.010

White Lightning, no. 10

November 1972

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.011

White Lightning, no. 11

December 1972

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.012

White Lightning, no. 12

January 1973

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.013

White Lightning, no. 13

February 1973

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.014

White Lightning, no. 14

March 1973

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.015

White Lightning, no. 15

April 1973

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.016

White Lightning, no. 16

May 1973

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.017

White Lightning, no. 17

June 1973

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.018

White Lightning, no. 18

July 1973

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.019

White Lightning, no. 19

September 1973

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.020

White Lightning, no. 20

October 1973

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.021

White Lightning, no. 21

November 1973

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.022

White Lightning, no. 22

December 1973

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.023

White Lightning, no. 23

January 1974

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.024

White Lightning, no. 24

February 1974

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.025

White Lightning, no. 25

March 1974

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.026

White Lightning, no. 26

May 1974

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.027

White Lightning, no. 27

May 1974

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.028

White Lightning, no. 28

August–September 1974

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.029

White Lightning, no. 27 [no. 29]

November–December 1974

MS-FAGIANI-BD001.005.030

White Lightning, no. 30

March 1975

Series 6: Pamphlets (White Lightning and Personal Library)

Box

Folder

Contents

Date

2

1

Alia, Ramiz, Leninism

1970

2

2

Betrayal of Proletarian Dictatorship is the Heart of the Book on “Self-Cultivation”

1967

2

3

Constitution of the U.S.S.R.

1967

2

4

Glaberman, Martin, Mao as a Dialectician

1971

2

5

Inside the IRA

1975

2

6

It Ain’t Necessarily So: Myths and Facts about Racism and the Klan in Boston

1980

2

7

Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism

1970

2

8

Lenin, Letters on Tactics

1970

2

9

Lenin, On the National and Colonial Question

1967

2

10

Lenin, On Religion

1969

2

11

Lewis, John, Marxism and Modern Idealism

1945

2

12

Mao, Zedong, The Orientation of the Youth Movement

1967

2

13

Mao, Zedong, Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art

1967

2

14

Proletarian Unity League, On the “Progressive Role” of the Soviet Union

1978

2

15

Robinson, Chris, Plotting Directions

1982

2

16

Sarkis, Charles (ed.), What Went Wrong

1982

2

17

Students for a Democratic Society, Which Side Are You On?

n.d.

2

18

Their Morals and Ours: Marxist Versus Liberal Views on Morality

1966

2

19

Up Yours Agnelli! Recent Workers’ Struggles in Italian Industry

1971

Series 7: Books (White Lightning and Personal Library)

Box

Folder

Contents

Date

2

20

Aronowitz, Stanley, The Politics of Identity

1992

2

21

Davis, Britton, The Truth About Geronomio

1963

2

22

Doob, Christopher Bates, Racism: An American Cauldron

1993

2

23

Ethnotherapy: An Exploration of Italian-American Identity

1985

2

24

Giap, General Vo Nguyen, The Military Art of People’s War

1970

2

25

Gilbert, David, No Surrender: Writings from an Anti-Imperialist Political Prisoner

n.d.

2

26

Jacobs, Ron, The Way the Wind Blew: A history of the Weather Underground

1997

2

27

Helen Keller: Her Socialist Years

1967

2

28

Lunacharsky, A., On Literature and Art

1973

2

29

Marx and Engels On Literature and Art

1977

2

30

O’Neill, William L., A Better World; The Great Schism: Stalinism and the American Intellectuals

1983

2

31

Rokhlin, L., Soviet Medicine in the Fight Against Mental Diseases

1958

2

32

Salas, Floyd, Buffalo Nickel

1992

2

33

Santoli, Al, Everything We Had: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Thirty-Three American Soldiers Who Fought It

1981

2

34

Smith, Michael Steven, Notebook of A Sixties Lawyer

1992

2

35

Sobrino, Jon, Christ the Liberator

1970

2

36

Stalin, Joseph, Collected Works, vol. 3

1953

2

37

Whalen, Jack, and Richard Flacks, Beyond the Barricades: The Sixties Generation Grows Up

1989

2

38

Wortis, Joseph, Soviet Psychiatry

1950

2

39

Yablonsky, Lewis, Synanon: The Tunnel Back

1965

2

40

Zelinsky, Kornely, Soviet Literature: Problems and People

1970