Gil Ott, 53, poet and arts activist

Posted: February 13, 2004

Gil Ott, 53, who as an avant-garde poet sought surprises in language and as a community arts activist related better to homeless people than to academics, died Feb. 5 of complications of kidney disease at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Ott lived in Mount Airy.

He worked with other writers, artists, social workers and activists to create programs and publications that gave voice to the disabled.

As the development director of the Painted Bride Arts Center, Mr. Ott obtained grants that helped give the center a second life and move from humble beginnings on South Street to its present home on Vine Street.

Mr. Ott was the director of Liberty Resources, a prominent organization for people with disabilities. He edited a collection, No Restraints: An Anthology of Disability Culture in Philadelphia, published in 2002, which received the Mayor's Access Award.

Longtime friend Eli Goldblatt said: "The opening for the book at the Philadelphia Art Museum last year was an explosive affair. The disabled authors, some in wheelchairs and some unable to speak, were energetic and proud artists, professionals and activists."

Mr. Ott, who was born and raised in Blue Bell, became ill with kidney disease in 1975, when he had the first of five kidney transplants. He began to publish his poems in literary magazines and founded Paper Air magazine, which grew into a venue for avant-garde poets from 1976 to 1990. He also owned Singing Horse Press, a company that published poetry for almost 20 years.

Mr. Ott produced 12 books of poetry but did not fit into the academic poetry scene. He seldom gave readings, but when he did, he first lit a candle and sang silly songs such as "The Moon Doesn't Run on Gasoline" before he began. His work was profoundly playful.

He was a networker, but not in the ambitious sense: He simply took pleasure in introducing poets and writers to one another. Philadelphia poets and critics published a tribute to Mr. Ott and his work in The Form of Our Uncertainty in 2001.

Mr. Ott is survived by his wife of 16 years, Julia Blumenreich; a daughter, Willa; his parents, Edwin and Hazel; and a brother, Allen.

A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Painted Bride Arts Center, 230 Vine St.

Memorial donations may be sent to Liberty Resources, 1341 N. Delaware Ave., Suite 105, Philadelphia 19125.

Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or gsims@phillynews.com.

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