Gayton, Thomas (Tomas) L. (b. 1945)

  • By Thomas L. Gayton
  • Posted 3/21/2002
  • Essay 3721

Thomas (Tomas) L. Gayton (b. 1945) was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, the grandson of black pioneers John T. Gayton and Magnolia (Scott) Gayton. Tomas began writing verse soon after graduating with a Juris Doctor from the University of Washington. Besides being a poet, Tomas is also a Civil Rights Attorney, social activist, world traveler, teacher, and lecturer. He is the oldest child of the Seattle jazz drummer Leonard Gayton

and Leonard's wife Emma.

Tomas was born in Swedish Hospital on April 11, 1945, and grew up in Seattle's Mount Baker neighborhood overlooking Lake Washington and the floating bridge. He and his two younger brothers and sister attended John Muir Elementary School, Washington Junior High, Asa Mercer Junior High, and Franklin High School. He graduated from the University of Washington and (in 1970) from the University of Washington School of Law.

In 1971, he received a Reginald Heber Smith Poverty Law Fellowship and began doing civil rights litigation in Seattle's Central Area. During that time he filed in Seattle's Federal District Court one of the first fair housing law suits. He worked with the Public Defenders office and had an office in Smith Tower.

At the same time, right after graduating from law school, he began attending the verse writing seminar of University of Washington poet and English Professor Nelson Bentley (1918-1990). He says that he was then "well on my way to a love affair with words."

In 1977, he moved to San Diego.

Works and Performances

Yazoo City Blues is Tomas' fifth volume of prose and poetry which includes a bilingual edition: Vientos de Cambio, Winds of Change, Time of the Poet, Dark Symphony in Duet, with the late Sarah Fabio, and Two Races, One Face, with John Peterson. His work has appeared in various newspapers and literary journals, including The Seattle Times, The Seattle Review, Sheila Na Gig, Vision Magazine, The Poetry Conspiracy, The Publication, Urban Walls, Collectively Creatin, and the National Catholic Reporter.

As a member of the Bicentennial Performing Arts Project of Pasadena, Tomas performed his poetry in the Los Angeles area with the poetry ensemble, Long Journey Home. He has been featured at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, Le Musee D'Art Moderne in Paris, France, the Elliott Bay Book Co. in Seattle, Dizzy's Jazz club in San Diego and the Union Nacional de Escritores y artistas de Cuba (UNEAC) in Habana.

Tomas has read his poetry on KPFK, Pacifica radio, Los Angeles and has performed with Jazz greats Charles McPherson, cousin Clark Gayton and Daniel Jackson. He has taught verse writing at the Writing Center in San Diego, founded the Poetry Workshop in La Jolla, California, at D.G. Wills bookstore and cofounded San Diego Poets' Press.


Tomas Gayton Website (

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