Lawrence P. Neal, 43, a poet and critic who was regarded as a substantial influence on the development of black art since the 1960s and who was a former executive director of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, died Tuesday at Community Memorial Hospital in Hamilton, N.Y., after a heart attack.
Mr. Neal, who was in Hamilton in connection with a theater workshop at Colgate University when he was stricken, lived in New York City.
From 1976 to 1979, he was executive director of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, a city agency funded by the D.C. government and the National Endowment of the Arts that makes grants to artists and organizations promoting the arts. During the last of his years here, he also taught at Howard University.
During Mr. Neal's tenure, the city failed to match the funding provided by the National Endowment. While this severely restricted commission's activities, Mr. Neal is remembered as someone who kept in close touch with the community. Moreover, according to Mildred E. Bautista, who succeeded him as executive director, the very presence of a black writer of Mr. Neal's stature had a positive effect on arts programs and artists in this city.
"He was a real example of a practicing artist -- a writer, critic and poet," she said.
Mr. Neal was born in Atlanta and grew up in Philadelphia. He graduated from Lincoln University and then returned to Philadelphia, where he taught at the Drexel Institute and took graduate courses at the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1963 he moved to New York City. For the next two years, he was the arts editor of The Liberator, a black nationalist magazine in which his own writing appeared. Mr. Neal held the view that art must perform a social function. In the case of black art, this function is to reflect the black experience in the United States and serve as a way in blacks can place themselves in this society, he believed.
In 1965, with LeRoi Jones, known now as Amiri Braka, Mr. Neal helped found the Black Arts Theater in New York. In 1969, the two men published an anthology of black American writing, "Black Fire," which was called a "literary landmark" by Hoyt Fuller, the editor of First World magazine. It was through these and other activities that Mr. Neal exercised an infulence on black art, particularly in the 1960s. t
Mr. Neal published two volumes of his own poetry, "Black Bugaloo" and "Hoodoo Hollerin' Bebop Ghosts." He wrote articles for The Partisan Review, The New York Times and other publications.
In addition to teaching at Drexel and Howard, he lectured at Yale, Wellesley, Williams and other colleges and universities. He recently completed a series on jazz for WGBH-TV in Boston and the introduction to the writings of Zora Hurstion, and was working on a book about the rise of black consciousness in the 1960s.
Survivors include his wife, Evelyn, and a son Avatar, both of New York City, and his mother, Maggie Neal, and four brothers, Charles, Melvin, Joseph and Robert, all of Philadelphia.