The Black Arts Movement, Another RBG Tutorial Joint


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The Black Arts Movement, Another RBG Tutorial Joint

  1. 1. Historical Overviews of The Black Arts Movement, Kaluma ya SalaamThe Black Arts Movement, Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970sBy James Edward Smethurst
  2. 2. Select Videos: 27:58The Black Arts Movement in the Broader Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement: CarolynRodgers TalkThe aim of the symposium was to bring together writers and activists from that era to talk aboutthe influential alignments, cross-currents among ... 28:46The Black Arts Movement in the Broader Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement: SterlingPlumpp TalkThe aim of the symposium was to bring together writers and activists from that era to talk aboutthe influential alignments, cross-currents among ... 47:31The Black Arts Movement in the Broader Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement: Angela JacksonTalk
  3. 3. The aim of the symposium was to bring together writers and activists from that era to talk aboutthe influential alignments, cross-currents among ... 21:07The Black Arts Movement in the Broader Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement: Question andAnswer Portion of SymposiumThe aim of the symposium was to bring together writers and activists from that era to talk aboutthe influential alignments, cross-currents among ... 33:04The Black Arts Movement in the Broader Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement: Sala Udin TalkThe aim of the symposium was to bring together writers and activists from that era to talk aboutthe influential alignments, cross-currents among ... 26:06Lunch Poems: Amiri BarakaAmiri Baraka is recognized as the founder of the Black Arts Movement, a literary period thatbegan in Harlem in the 1960s and forever changed ...
  4. 4. 41:49A Conversation Between Amiri Baraka and Sala Udinactivist, to discuss his involvement in the Black Arts Movement, his poetry, and where BlackArts are headed today. ... coapgh ... poetry interview ... 41:49A Conversation with Amiri Barakaactivist, to discuss his involvement in the Black Arts Movement, his poetry, and where BlackArts are headed today. ... coapgh ... poetry interview ... 56:38Lunch Poems - Amiri BarakaAmiri Baraka is recognized as the founder of the Black Arts Movement, a literary period thatbegan in Harlem in the 1960s and forever changed ... 1:26:50The Holloway Series in Poetry - Amiri BarakaAmiri Baraka is a well-known political activist, founder of the Black Arts Movement, andwinner of the American Book Award, Amiri Barakas work is ...
  5. 5. 37:33An interview with Amiri BarakaX and world revolutionary movements, Baraka is renowned as the founder of the Black ArtsMovement in Harlem in the 1960s that became, though short ... 36:57Amiri Baraka at RIT III, Rochester, NY Amiri Baraka, the noted poet, playwright and co-founder of the Black ArtsMovement of the 1960s, will headline two special ... 30:48Amiri Baraka at RIT II, Rochester, NY Amiri Baraka, the noted poet, playwright and co-founder of the Black ArtsMovement of the 1960s, will headline two special ...
  6. 6. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |1 The Black Arts Movement | Historical Overviews of the Black Arts Movement | African American Poetry--An Overview, by Joanne V. Gabbin | Documents from the Movement | Compiled and Prepared by Cary NelsonThe Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  7. 7. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |2Historical Overviews of The Black Arts Movement Kaluma ya SalaamBoth inherently and overtly political in content, the Black Arts movement was the onlyAmerican literary movement to advance "social engagement" as a sine qua non of its aesthetic.The movement broke from the immediate past of protest and petition (civil rights) literature anddashed forward toward an alternative that initially seemed unthinkable and unobtainable: BlackPower.In a 1968 essay, "The Black Arts Movement," Larry Neal proclaimed Black Arts the "aestheticand spiritual sister of the Black Power concept." As a political phrase, Black Power had earlierbeen used by Richard Wright to describe the mid-1950s emergence of independent Africannations. The 1960s use of the term originated in 1966 with Student Nonviolent CoordinatingCommittee civil rights workers Stokely Carmichael and Willie Ricks. Quickly adopted in theNorth, Black Power was associated with a militant advocacy of armed self-defense, separationfrom "racist American domination," and pride in and assertion of the goodness and beauty ofBlackness.Although often criticized as sexist, homophobic, and racially exclusive (i.e., reverse racist),Black Arts was much broader than any of its limitations. Ishmael Reed, who is consideredneither a movement apologist nor advocate ("I wasnt invited to participate because I wasconsidered an integrationist"), notes in a 1995 interview,I think what Black Arts did was inspire a whole lot of Black people to write. Moreover, therewould be no multiculturalism movement without Black Arts. Latinos, Asian Americans, andothers all say they began writing as a result of the example of the 1960s. Blacks gave theexample that you dont have to assimilate. You could do your own thing, get into your ownbackground, your own history, your own tradition and your own culture. I think the challenge isfor cultural sovereignty and Black Arts struck a blow for that.History and Context. The Black Arts movement, usually referred to as a "sixties" movement,coalesced in 1965 and broke apart around 1975/1976. In March 1965 following the 21 Februaryassassination of Malcolm X, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) moved from Manhattans Lower EastSide (he had already moved away from Greenwich Village) uptown to Harlem, an exodusconsidered the symbolic birth of the Black Arts movement. Jones was a highly visible publisher(Yugen and Floating Bear magazines, Totem Press), a celebrated poet (Preface to a Twenty- The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  8. 8. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |3Volume Suicide Note, 1961, and The Dead Lecturer, 1964), a major music critic (Blues People,1963), and an Obie Award-winning playwright (Dutchman, 1964) who, up until that fateful split,had functioned in an integrated world. Other than James Baldwin, who at that time had beenclosely associated with the civil rights movement, Jones was the most respected and most widelypublished Black writer of his generation.While Joness 1965 move uptown to found the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BARTS) isthe formal beginning (it was Jones who came up with the name "Black Arts"), Black Arts, as aliterary movement, had its roots in groups such as the Umbra Workshop. Umbra (1962) was acollective of young Black writers based in Manhattans Lower East Side; major members werewriters Steve Cannon, Tom Dent, Al Haynes, David Henderson, Calvin C. Hernton, Joe Johnson,Norman Pritchard, Lenox Raphael, Ishmael Reed, Lorenzo Thomas, James Thompson, Askia M.Touré (Roland Snellings; also a visual artist), Brenda Walcott, and musician-writer ArchieShepp. Touré, a major shaper of "cultural nationalism," directly influenced Jones. Along withUmbra writer Charles Patterson and Charless brother, William Patterson, Touré joined Jones,Steve Young, and others at BARTS.Umbra, which produced Umbra Magazine, was the first post-civil rights Black literary group tomake an impact as radical in the sense of establishing their own voice distinct from, andsometimes at odds with, the prevailing white literary establishment. The attempt to merge aBlack-oriented activist thrust with a primarily artistic orientation produced a classic split inUmbra between those who wanted to be activists and those who thought of themselves asprimarily writers, though to some extent all members shared both views. Black writers havealways had to face the issue of whether their work was primarily political or aesthetic. Moreover,Umbra itself had evolved out of similar circumstances: In 1960 a Black nationalist literaryorganization, On Guard for Freedom, had been founded on the Lower East Side by Calvin Hicks.Its members included Nannie and Walter Bowe, Harold Cruse (who was then working on Crisisof the Negro Intellectual, 1967), Tom Dent, Rosa Guy, Joe Johnson, LeRoi Jones, and SarahWright, among others. On Guard was active in a famous protest at the United Nations of theAmerican-sponsored Bay of Pigs Cuban invasion and was active in support of the Congoleseliberation leader Patrice Lumumba. From On Guard, Dent, Johnson, and Walcott along withHernton, Henderson, and Touré established Umbra.Another formation of Black writers at that time was the Harlem Writers Guild, led by John O.Killens, which included Maya Angelou, Jean Carey Bond, Rosa Guy, and Sarah Wright amongothers. But the Harlem Writers Guild focused on prose, primarily fiction, which did not have themass appeal of poetry performed in the dynamic vernacular of the time. Poems could be builtaround anthems, chants, and political slogans, and thereby used in organizing work, which wasnot generally the case with novels and short stories. Moreover, the poets could and did publishthemselves, whereas greater resources were needed to publish fiction. That Umbra was primarilypoetry- and performance-oriented established a significant and classic characteristic of themovements aesthetics.When Umbra split up, some members, led by Askia Touré and Al Haynes, moved to Harlem inlate 1964 and formed the nationalist-oriented "Uptown Writers Movement," which includedpoets Yusef Rahman, Keorapetse "Willie" Kgositsile from South Africa, and Larry Neal. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  9. 9. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |4Accompanied by young "New Music" musicians, they performed poetry all over Harlem.Members of this group joined LeRoi Jones in founding BARTS.Joness move to Harlem was short-lived. In December 1965 he returned to his home, Newark(N.J.), and left BARTS in serious disarray. BARTS failed but the Black Arts center concept wasirrepressible mainly because the Black Arts movement was so closely aligned with the then-burgeoning Black Power movement.The mid- to late 1960s was a period of intense revolutionary ferment. Beginning in 1964,rebellions in Harlem and Rochester, New York, initiated four years of long hot summers. Watts,Detroit, Newark, Cleveland, and many other cities went up in flames, culminating in nationwideexplosions of resentment and anger following Martin Luther King, Jr.s April 1968 assassination.In his seminal 1965 poem "Black Art," which quickly became the major poetic manifesto of theBlack Arts literary movement, Jones declaimed "we want poems that kill." He was not simplyspeaking metaphorically. During that period armed self-defense and slogans such as "Armyourself or harm yourself established a social climate that promoted confrontation with the whitepower structure, especially the police (e.g., "Off the pigs"). Indeed, Amiri Baraka (Jones changedhis name in 1967) had been arrested and convicted (later overturned on appeal) on a gunpossession charge during the 1967 Newark rebellion. Additionally, armed struggle was widelyviewed as not only a legitimate, but often as the only effective means of liberation. Black Artsdynamism, impact, and effectiveness are a direct result of its partisan nature and advocacy ofartistic and political freedom "by any means necessary." America had never experienced such amilitant artistic movement.Nathan Hare, the author of The Black Anglo-Saxons (1965), was the founder of 1960s BlackStudies. Expelled from Howard University, Hare moved to San Francisco State University wherethe battle to establish a Black Studies department was waged during a five-month strike duringthe 1968-1969 school year. As with the establishment of Black Arts, which included a range offorces, there was broad activity in the Bay Area around Black Studies, including efforts led bypoet and professor Sarah Webster Fabio at Merrit College.The initial thrust of Black Arts ideological development came from the Revolutionary ActionMovement (RAM), a national organization with a strong presence in New York City. Both Touréand Neal were members of RAM. After RAM, the major ideological force shaping the BlackArts movement was the US (as opposed to "them) organization led by Maulana Karenga. Alsoideologically important was Elijah Muhammads Chicago-based Nation of Islam.These three formations provided both style and ideological direction for Black Arts artists,including those who were not members of these or any other political organization. Although theBlack Arts movement is often considered a New York-based movement, two of its three majorforces were located outside New York City.As the movement matured, the two major locations of Black Arts ideological leadership,particularly for literary work, were Californias Bay Area because of the Journal of Black Poetryand the Black Scholar, and the Chicago-Detroit axis because of Negro Digest/Black World and The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  10. 10. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |5Third World Press in Chicago, and Broadside Press and Naomi Long Madgetts Lotus Press inDetroit. The only major Black Arts literary publications to come out of New York were theshort-lived (six issues between 1969 and 1972) Black Theatre magazine published by the NewLafayette Theatre and Black Dialogue, which had actually started in San Francisco (1964-1968)and relocated to New York (1969-1972).In 1967 LeRoi Jones visited Karenga in Los Angeles and became an advocate of Karengasphilosophy of Kawaida. Kawaida, which produced the "Nguzo Saba" (seven principles),Kwanzaa, and an emphasis on African names, was a multifaceted, categorized activistphilosophy. Jones also met Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver and worked with a number of thefounding members of the Black Panthers. Additionally, Askia Touré was a visiting professor atSan Francisco State and was to become a leading (and longlasting) poet as well as, arguably, themost influential poet-professor in the Black Arts movement. Playwright Ed Bullins and poetMarvin X had established Black Arts West, and Dingane Joe Goncalves had founded the Journalof Black Poetry (1966). This grouping of Ed Bullins, Dingane Joe Goncalves, LeRoi Jones,Sonia Sanchez, Askia M. Touré, and Marvin X became a major nucleus of Black Arts leadership.Theory and Practice. The two hallmarks of Black Arts activity were the development of Blacktheater groups and Black poetry performances and journals, and both had close ties tocommunity organizations and issues. Black theaters served as the focus of poetry, dance, andmusic performances in addition to formal and ritual drama. Black theaters were also venues forcommunity meetings, lectures, study groups, and film screenings. The summer of 1968 issue ofDrama Review, a special on Black theater edited by Ed Bullins, literally became a Black Artstextbook that featured essays and plays by most of the major movers: Larry Neal, Ben Caldwell,LeRoi Jones, Jimmy Garrett, John ONeal, Sonia Sanchez, Marvin X, Ron Milner, Woodie King,Jr., Bill Gunn, Ed Bullins, and Adam David Miller. Black Arts theater proudly emphasized itsactivist roots and orientations in distinct, and often antagonistic, contradiction to traditionaltheaters, both Black and white, which were either commercial or strictly artistic in focus.By 1970 Black Arts theaters and cultural centers were active throughout America. The NewLafayette Theatre (Bob Macbeth, executive director, and Ed Bullins, writer in residence) andBarbara Ann Teers National Black Theatre led the way in New York, Barakas Spirit HouseMovers held forth in Newark and traveled up and down the East Coast. The Organization ofBlack American Culture (OBAC) and Val Grey Wards Kuumba Theatre Company were leadingforces in Chicago, from where emerged a host of writers, artists, and musicians including theOBAC visual artist collective whose "Wall of Respect" inspired the national community-basedpublic murals movement and led to the formation of Afri-Cobra (the African Commune of Bad,Revolutionary Artists). There was David Rambeaus Concept East and Ron Milner and WoodieKing’s Black Arts Midwest, both based in Detroit. Ron Milner became the Black Artsmovements most enduring playwright and Woodie King became its leading theater impresariowhen he moved to New York City. In Los Angeles there was the Ebony Showcase, Inner CityRepertory Company, and the Performing Arts Society of Los Angeles (PALSA) led by VantileWhitfield. In San Francisco was the aforementioned Black Arts West. BLKARTSOUTH (led byTom Dent and Kalamu ya Salaam) was an outgrowth of the Free Southern Theatre in NewOrleans and was instrumental in encouraging Black theater development across the south fromthe Theatre of Afro Arts in Miami, Florida, to Sudan Arts Southwest in Houston, Texas, through The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  11. 11. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |6an organization called the Southern Black Cultural Alliance. In addition to formal Black theaterrepertory companies in numerous other cities, there were literally hundreds of Black Artscommunity and campus theater groups.A major reason for the widespread dissemination and adoption of Black Arts was thedevelopment of nationally distributed magazines that printed manifestos and critiques in additionto offering publishing opportunities for a proliferation of young writers. Whether establishmentor independent, Black or white, most literary publications rejected Black Arts writers. Themovements first literary expressions in the early 1960s came through two New York-based,nationally distributed magazines, Freedomways and Liberator. Freedomways, "a journal of theFreedom Movement," backed by leftists, was receptive to young Black writers. The moreimportant magazine was Dan Wattss Liberator, which openly aligned itself with both domesticand international revolutionary movements. Many of the early writings of critical Black Artsvoices are found in Liberator. Neither of these were primarily literary journals.The first major Black Arts literary publication was the California-based Black Dialogue (1964),edited by Arthur A. Sheridan, Abdul Karim, Edward Spriggs, Aubrey Labrie, and MarvinJackmon (Marvin X). Black Dialogue was paralleled by Soulbook (1964), edited by MamadouLumumba (Kenn Freeman) and Bobb Hamilton. Oakland-based Soulbook was mainly politicalbut included poetry in a section ironically titled "Reject Notes."Dingane Joe Goncalves became Black Dialogues poetry editor and, as more and more poetrypoured in, he conceived of starting the Journal of Black Poetry. Founded in San Francisco, thefirst issue was a small magazine with mimeographed pages and a lithographed cover. Up throughthe summer of 1975, the Journal published nineteen issues and grew to over one hundred pages.Publishing a broad range of more than five hundred poets, its editorial policy was eclectic.Special issues were given to guest editors who included Ahmed Alhamisi, Don L. Lee (Haki R.Madhubuti), Clarence Major, Larry Neal, Dudley Randall, Ed Spriggs, and Askia Touré. Inaddition to African Americans, African, Caribbean, Asian, and other international revolutionarypoets were presented.Founded in 1969 by Nathan Hare and Robert Chrisman, the Black Scholar, "the first journal ofblack studies and research in this country," was theoretically critical. Major African-disasporanand African theorists were represented in its pages. In a 1995 interview Chrisman attributedmuch of what exists today to the groundwork laid by the Black Arts movement:If we had not had a Black Arts movement in the sixties we certainly wouldnt have had nationalBlack literary figures like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alice Walker, or Toni Morrison because muchmore so than the Harlem Renaissance, in which Black artists were always on the leash of whitepatrons and publishing houses, the Black Arts movement did it for itself. What you had wasBlack people going out nationally, in mass, saving that we are an independent Black people andthis is what we produce.For the publication of Black Arts creative literature, no magazine was more important than theChicago-based Johnson publication Negro Digest / Black World. Johnson published Americasmost popular Black magazines, Jet and Ebony. Hoyt Fuller, who became the editor in 1961, was The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  12. 12. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |7a Black intellectual with near-encyclopedic knowledge of Black literature and seeminglyinexhaustible contacts. Because Negro Digest, a monthly, ninety-eight-page journal, was aJohnson publication, it was sold on newsstands nationwide. Originally patterned on Reader’sDigest, Negro Digest changed its name to Black World in 1970, indicative of Fuller’s view thatthe magazine ought to be a voice for Black people everywhere. The name change also reflectedthe widespread rejection of "Negro" and the adoption of "Black" as the designation of choice forpeople of African descent and to indicate identification with both the diaspora and Africa. Thelegitimation of "Black" and "African" is another enduring legacy of the Black Arts movement.Negro Digest / Black World published both a high volume and an impressive range of poetry,fiction, criticism, drama, reviews, reportage, and theoretical articles. A consistent highlight wasFullers perceptive column Perspectives ("Notes on books, writers, artists and the arts") whichinformed readers of new publications, upcoming cultural events and conferences, and alsoprovided succinct coverage of major literary developments. Fuller produced annual poetry,drama, and fiction issues, sponsored literary contests, and gave out literary awards. Fullerpublished a variety of viewpoints but always insisted on editorial excellence and thus madeNegro Digest / Black World a first-rate literary publication. Johnson decided to cease publicationof Black World in April 1976: allegedly in response to a threatened withdrawal of advertisementfrom all of Johnsons publications because of pro-Palestinian/anti-Zionist articles in Black World.The two major Black Arts presses were poet Dudley Randalls Broadside Press in Detroit andHaki Madhubutis Third World Press in Chicago. From a literary standpoint, Broadside Press,which concentrated almost exclusively on poetry, was by far the more important. Founded in1965, Broadside published more than four hundred poets in more than one hundred books orrecordings and was singularly responsible for presenting older Black poets (Gwendolyn Brooks,Sterling A. Brown, and Margaret Walker) to a new audience and introducing emerging poets(Nikki Giovanni, Etheridge Knight, Don L. Lee/Haki Madhubuti, and Sonia Sanchez) whowould go on to become major voices for the movement. In 1976, strapped by economicrestrictions and with a severely overworked and overwhelmed three-person staff, BroadsidePress went into serious decline. Although it functions mainly on its back catalog, BroadsidePress is still alive.While a number of poets (e.g., Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Haki Madhubuti, and SoniaSanchez), playwrights (e.g., Ed Bullins and Ron Milner), and spoken-word artists (e.g., the LastPoets and Gil Scott-Heron, both of whom were extremely popular and influential although oftenoverlooked by literary critics) are indelibly associated with the Black Arts movement, rather thanfocusing on their individual work, one gets a much stronger and much more accurate impressionof the movement by reading seven anthologies focusing on the 1960s and the 1970s.Black Fire (1968), edited by Baraka and Neal, is a massive collection of essays, poetry, fiction,and drama featuring the first wave of Black Arts writers and thinkers. Because of its impressivebreadth, Black Fire stands as a definitive movement anthology.For Malcolm X, Poems on the Life and the Death of Malcolm X (1969), edited by DudleyRandall and Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs, demonstrates the political thrust of the movement The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  13. 13. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |8and the specific influence of Malcolm X. There is no comparable anthology in American poetrythat focuses on a political figure as poetic inspiration.The Black Woman (1970), edited by Toni Cade Bambara, is the first major Black feministanthology and features work by Jean Bond, Nikki Giovanni, Abbey Lincoln, Audre Lorde, PauleMarshall, Gwen Patton, Pat Robinson, Alice Walker, Shirley Williams, and others.Edited by Addison Gayle, Jr., The Black Aesthetic (1971) is significant because it both articulatesand contextualizes Black Arts theory. The work of writers such as Alain Locke, W. E. B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, and J. A. Rogers showcases the movements roots in an earlier era intosections on theory, music, fiction, poetry, and drama, Gayles seminal anthology features a broadarray of writers who are regarded as the chief Black Arts theorists-practitioners.Stephen Hendersons Understanding the New Black Poetry (1972) is important not only becauseof the poets included but also because of Hendersons insightful and unparalleled sixty-sevenpage overview. This is the movements most thorough exposition of a Black poetic aesthetic.Insights and lines of thought now taken for granted were first articulated in a critical and formalcontext by Stephen Henderson, who proposed a totally innovative reading of Black poetics.New Black Voices (1972), edited by Abraham Chapman, is significant because its focus isspecifically on the emerging voices in addition to new work by established voices who wereactive in the Black Arts movement. Unlike most anthologies, which overlook the South, NewBlack Voices is geographically representative and includes lively pro and con articles side byside debating aesthetic and political theory.The seventh book, Eugene Redmonds Drumvoices, The Mission of Afro-American Poetry: ACritical History (1976), is a surprisingly thorough survey that has been unjustly neglected.Although some of his opinions are controversial (note that in the movement controversy wasnormal), Redmonds era by era and city by city cataloging of literary collectives as well asindividual writers offers an invaluable service in detailing the movements national scope.The Movements Breakup. The decline of the Black Arts movement began in 1974 when theBlack Power movement was disrupted and co-opted. Black political organizations were hounded,disrupted, and defeated by repressive government measures, such as Cointelpro and IRS probes.Black Studies activist leadership was gutted and replaced by academicians and trainedadministrators who were unreceptive, if not outright opposed, to the movements politicalorientation.Key internal events in the disruption were the split between nationalists and Marxists in theAfrican Liberation Support Committee (May 1974), the Sixth Pan African Congress in Tanzaniawhere race-based struggle was repudiated/denounced by most of the strongest forces in Africa(Aug. 1974), and Baraka’s national organization, the Congress of Afrikan People (CAP),officially changing from a "Pan Afrikan Nationalist" to a "Marxist Leninist" organization (Oct.1974). The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  14. 14. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) |9As the movement reeled from the combination of external and internal disruption,commercialization and capitalist co-option delivered the coup de grace. President RichardNixons strategy of pushing Black capitalism as a response to Black Power epitomizedmainstream co-option. As major film, record, book, and magazine publishers identified the mostsalable artists, the Black Arts movements already fragile independent economic base was totallyundermined.In an overwhelmingly successful effort to capitalize on the upsurge of interest in the feministmovement, establishment presses focused particular attention on the work of Black womenwriters. Although issues of sexism had been widely and hotly debated within movementpublications and organizations, the initiative passed from Black Arts back to the establishment.Emblematic of the establishment overtaking (some would argue "co-opting") Black Arts activityis Ntozake Shanges for colored girls, which in 1976 ended up on Broadway produced by JosephPapp even though it had been workshopped at Woodie Kings New Federal Theatre of the HenryStreet Settlement on the Lower East Side. Black Arts was not able to match the economic andpublicity offers tendered by establishment concerns.Corporate America (both the commercial sector and the academic sector) once again selectedand propagated one or two handpicked Black writers. During the height of Black Arts activity,each community had a coterie of writers and there were publishing outlets for hundreds, but oncethe mainstream regained control, Black artists were tokenized. Although Black Arts activitycontinued into the early 1980s, by 1976, the year of what Gil Scott-Heron called the "Buy-Centennial," the movement was without any sustainable and effective political or economicbases in an economically strapped Black community. An additional complicating factor was theeconomic recession, resulting from the oil crisis, which the Black community experienced as adepression. Simultaneously, philanthropic foundations only funded non-threatening, "artsoriented" groups. Neither the Black Arts nor the Black Power movements ever recovered.The Legacy. In addition to advocating political engagement and independent publishing, theBlack Arts movement was innovative in its use of language. Speech (particularly, but notexclusively, Black English), music, and performance were major elements of Black Artsliterature. Black Arts aesthetics emphasized orality, which includes the ritual use of call andresponse both within the body of the work itself as well as between artist and audience. Thissame orientation is apparent in rap music and 1990s "performance poetry" (e.g., Nuyorican Poetsand poetry slams).While right-wing trends attempt to push Americas cultural clock back to the 1950s, Black Artscontinues to evidence resiliency in the Black community and among other marginalized sectors.When people encounter the Black Arts movement, they are delighted and inspired by the mostaudacious, prolific, and socially engaged literary movement in Americas history.From The Oxford Companion to African American Literature. New York: Oxford UP, 1997.Copyright © 1997 by Oxford UP. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  15. 15. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 10 Reginald MartinBackground. A central problem in the paradigmatic development of art and literary "history"has always been whose ideas of art and literature will be empowered and, thus, whose ideas willbe used to judge what is "good" or "bad" art. The question of who empowers and validatescertain literary critical trends is beyond the scope of my inquiry here. But such battles arehistorically frequent in the sometimes purposely stagnated progression of art "theory." Theproblems that the progenitors of the Black Arts Movement faced were merely synecdochal of themany traditional and frequent battles in art and literary history fought to decide whose ideas willbe censored and whose ideas will be validated and propagated. In other words, stipulativeskirmishes have always been fought within the larger battleground of general censorship todecide whose ideas will be codified as a part of the taught canon of art history and criticism. Thetrials of museum director Dennis Barrie in Cincinnati in the Mapplethorpe controversy and therap group 2 Live Crew (Luther Campbell, Mark Ross, Christopher Wongwon) in Florida areother similar and related skirmishes. Those whose art triumphs over others art know that thespoils of that war are certificates of deposit and cold hard cash, not whether one songwriterslove-making lyrics are more acceptable than anothers, nor whether nude heterosexual imagesshould preclude nude homosexual images.History and Development. The precursors to what is now called the Black Arts Movement (ca.1962-1971) are many and interwoven. One could reasonably argue that there had been a call fora separate black letters in the American literary mainstream since Frederick Douglasss "Whatthe Negro Wants" (1868). But the literary events that took place in the 1960s, influenced bysocial events from the 1950s and 1960s, overshadowed all work in black letters that had gone onbefore.During this volatile period, LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) wrote in his essay "The Myth of aNegro Literature’" (1962) that "a Negro literature, to be a legitimate product of the Negroexperience in America, must get at that experience in exactly the terms America has proposed forit in its most ruthless identity," and that the Negro, as an element of American culture, was"completely misunderstood by Americans." In discussing why, in his opinion, there was so littleblack literature of merit, Jones wrote,... in most cases the Negroes who found themselves in a position to pursue some art, especiallythe art of literature, have been members of the Negro middle class, a group that has always goneout of its way to cultivate any mediocrity, as long as that mediocrity was guaranteed to prove toAmerica, and recently to the world at large, that they were not really who they were, ie.,Negroes.Further, Jones wrote that as long as the Negro writer was obsessed with being accepted, middleclass, he would never be able to "tell it like it is," and, thus, would always be a failure, becauseAmerica made room only for white obfuscators, not black ones. It was from such thoughts byJones and the thoughts of many like-minded theoreticians such as Hoyt Fuller, that the BlackArts Movement (BAM) took its origins. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  16. 16. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 11In 1969, during his black nationalist period, Baraka laid concrete boundaries for a "nationalisticart." Baraka wrote in "nationalism vs. Pimpart":The Art is the National Spirit. That manifestation of it. Black Art must be the Nationalists visiongiven more form and feeling, as a razor to cut away what is not central to National Liberation. Toshow that which is. As a humanistic expression it is itself raised. And these are the poles, out ofwhich we create, to raise, or as raised.In this difficult passage, Baraka was proposing (in typical 1960s rhetoric) specific and limitedboundaries for acceptable art. Though a writer on all aspects of the BAM, Barakas areas ofgreatest interest were the related arts of literatures and literary criticism, and it was, indeed, thedebate on the content of black letters that would fuel the heat of the BAM from 1969 to its lastofficial flickerings in 1974, when Baraka wrote his amazing essay "Why I Changed MyIdeology." After Baraka formally announced that he was a socialist, no longer a black nationalist,his guidelines for "valid" black writing changed, but his new requirements, with slightly differentemphases (liberation of an classes, races, genders) and a slightly different First Cause (MonopolyCapitalism), were as rigid as his prior requirements. And at this time, Baraka was powerfulenough to influence others to codify his vision of acceptable art.Baraka saw certain black writers as disrupting the essential and beautiful Black Arts Movementof the 1960s and early 1970s. Baraka called these writers "capitulationists," and says theirmovement was simultaneous with and counter to the Black Arts Movement. Baraka felt that thesimultaneity was no accident. In his long essay "Afro-American Literature and the ClassStruggle" in Black American Literature Forum (Summer 1980), Baraka, for the first time, madeseveral strong, personal attacks on Ishmael Reed, the fiction writer and poet, and also attackedseveral black female writers whom he felt fit into the capitulationist mold. And, again, Barakareiterated that he believes that the groundbreakers in the Black Arts Movement (among them, thenew black aesthetic literary wing, including Addison Gayle, Houston Baker, and ClarenceMajor) were doing something that was new, needed, useful, and black, and those who did notwant to see such a flourishing of black expression were "appointed" to the scene to damage themovement.Naming Reed and Calvin Hernton as "conservatives," Baraka wrote:Yes, the tide was so strong that even some of the "conservatives" wrote work that took thepeoples side. (The metaphysical slide [sic] of the BAM [Black Arts Movement] even allowedReed to adopt a rebellious tone with his "Black power poem" and "sermonette" in catechism of dneoamerican hoodoo church, 1970, in which he saw the struggle of Blacks against nationaloppression as a struggle between two churches: e.g., "may the best church win. shake hands nowand come/out-conjuring." But even during the heat and heart of the DAM, Reed would call thatvery upsurge and the BAM "a goon squad aesthetic" and say that the revolutionary writers were"fascists" or that the taking up of African culture by Black artists indicated such artists were"tribalists."Much of the labeling of Reed as a conservative and a "house nigger" began with the publicationof The Last Days of Louisiana Red, in which a group of characters Reed labeled as "moochers" The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  17. 17. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 12loiter around Ed Yellings, a small black business owner who is making active efforts to earn aliving and who, through practicing voodoo, finds a cure for cancer. Critics interpreted "themoochers" as being stipulative of some of the BAM group. Supposedly, The Last Days ofLouisiana Red contains autocratic figures who do little more than emphasize Reeds definition ofmoochers, and who continually reenact negative, black stereotypes. Ed Yellings, the industriousblack, is killed by black moocher conspirators. Does this mean blacks will turn against whatReed believes to be the good in their own communities? Ed Yellings is a business and propertyowner. Baraka wrote,Ishmael Reed and Stanley Crouch both make the same kind of rah-rah speeches for the Blackmiddle class. Reed, in fact, says that those of us who uphold Black working people arebackwards ... Focus on the middle class, the property owners and music teachers, not the blackmasses (Ralph) Ellison tells us. This is the Roots crowd giving us a history of the BLM [BlackLiberation Movement] as a rags-to-riches, Horatio Alger tale in brownface, going off into thesunset and straight for Carters cabinet or the National Book Award....Baraka also set up a dichotomy for a "white arts movement" and a "black arts movement," butwhile defining the two--one would assume toward the end of endorsing one or the other--Barakashows only the failings of each and discusses his points of divergence from the "Black AestheticCrowd."In Barakas dichotomy, the "white aesthetic is bourgeois art--like the national interests of theU.S. at this late date when the U.S. is an imperialistic superpower." Immediately following thispassage, Baraka seemed to defend the black aesthetic group over Ellisons negative criticism ofthem. Baraka wrote that Ellison said of the black aesthetic crowd that they "buy the idea of totalcultural separation between blacks and whites, suggesting that weve been left out of themainstream. But when we examine American music and literature in terms of its themes,symbolism, rhythms, tonalities, idioms, and images it is obvious that those rejected Negroeshave been a vital part of the mainstream and were from the beginning." Baraka responded, "Weknow we have been exploited, Mr. Ralph, sir; what wes arguing about is that wes beenexploited! To use us is the term of stay in this joint. . . ." Barakas point is that it makes nodifference if the corrupt personage is black; the issue is still corruption, and it is a double insultto the oppressed when that corrupt person turns out to be black. But it is at that point that Barakaseparated himself from others in the new black aesthetic movement:Where I differ with the bourgeois nationalists who are identified with the "Black Aesthetic" isilluminated by a statement of Addison Gayles: "An aesthetic based upon economic and classdeterminism is one which has minimal value for Black people. For Black writers and critics thestarting point must be the proposition that the history of Black people in America is the historyof the struggle against racism" ("Blueprint for Black Criticism," First World, Jan.-Feb. 1977, p.43). But what is the basis for racism; ie., exploitation because of ones physical characteristics?Does it drop out of the sky? ... Black people suffer from national oppression: We are anoppressed nation, a nation oppressed by U.S. imperialism. Racism is an even more demonicaspect of this national oppression, since the oppressed nationality is identifiable anywhere as thatregardless of class. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  18. 18. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 13Baraka reminded the reader that his disagreement with the new black aesthetic elite was not tosay that there was no such thing as a black aesthetic, but that his conception of a black aestheticmanifested itself in his definition of it differently than it did for others. For him it was "a nationwithin a nation" that was brought about by the "big bourgeoisie on Wall Street, who after theCivil War completely dominated U.S. politics and economics, controlled the ex-planters, andturned them into their compradors." Further, black aesthetic ideas had to be subsumed under thelarger category of the Black Arts Movement so that its ideas would be in concert with thoseblack ideas from drama, dance, and graphic arts.Baraka claimed that several women writers, among them Michelle Wallace and Ntozake Shange,like Reed, had their own "Hollywood" aesthetic, one of "capitulation" and "garbage." Toward theend of his article, Baraka said that the "main line" of his argument bad been that "class struggleis as much a part of the arts as it is any place else." His pleas and support were reserved for thoseartists who were "struggle oriented," those who were trying to "get even clearer on the meaningof class stand, attitude, audience, and study, and their relationship to our work."And, thus, Barakas argument is epanaleptic, as it turns back for support upon the same core ofarguments of the other black aestheticians with whom he has said he is in disagreement; thosearguments form a complete circle with Barakas stated premise that black literature, black artmust do something materially positive to help black people. Art must be socially functional.The heat and heart really left the BAM after Baraka changed from black nationalist toLeninist/Socialist (1974) and after the death of Hoyt Fuller (1971). Baraka was by far thestrongest voice in the movement, and when he changed his ideas and said that before he had beenabsolutely wrong about his views on black art and that now his Leninist/Marxist vision wasabsolutely correct, many of his adherents lost faith. The basic tenets of the movement includedthe ideas that art by black Americans could never be accepted by white Americans, and separatecriteria needed to be developed by black artists to appraise properly the talent of black artists.Also, all art should be toward a political/humanistic end that would elevate all people--butespecially black people--to a higher consciousness and a better life. In a retrospective on thisartist/censor exchange, W. Lawrence Hogue wrote in "Literary Production: A Silence in Afro-American Critical Practice" from his book Discourse and the Other: The Production of the Afro-American Literary Text (1986) that the writers of the BAM:in using literature to further their political ends ... understand the political function of literature.Their strategy is to promote those Afro-American texts that present an aesthetic theory ofliterature. But that strategy is silent completely on how established literary institutions andapparatuses, throughout American literary history, have affected the production of Afro-American literature. . . . Of course, such a discussion would cause these black aestheticians toconfront openly the ideological nature and function, and therefore the constraints and exclusions,of their own cultural nationalist critical practices.Thus, at least in theoretical discussion, an expansive, stylistically, thematically, and raciallyabsorptive and syncretic "aesthetic" would put itself arguably above what Hogue calls the"nationalistic criteria" of the BAM regimen. In theory, a racially syncretic aesthetic would evenabsorb any facets of the BAM platform it could find useful, transform them, an produce new The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  19. 19. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 14"discursive formations" (Foucault) that helped to explain itself or explain any kind of art text itchose. It is partly the syncretic idea that the proponents of the BAM fought against. For them, theonly way to artistic purity was through separation from the mainstream.Most recently, Baraka has reassessed Leninist/Marxist theory as an applicable filter for African-American literature. He now finds that, while perhaps a Leninist/Marxist grid is not the best wayto assess and form the black arts, he still feels that at the root of any authentic black art endeavormust be the love of black people and the love of self-affirmation.From The Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing in the United States. New York: Oxford UP,1995. Copyright © 1995 by Oxford UP Return to The Black Arts MovementFurious Flower: African American Poetry,An Overview--by Joanne V. GabbinThe timecracks into furious flower. Lifts its faceall unashamed. And sways in wicked grace.-Gwendolyn BrooksAfrican American poetry is the aesthetic chronicle of a race, as Gwendolyn Brooks expresses it,struggling to lift "its face all unashamed" in an alien land. From the earliest attempts of AfricanAmerican poets in the eighteenth century to express lyrically their adjustment to existence in asociety that debated their humanity to their intense exploration of their voice in the waning yearsof a racially charged twentieth century, they have built an aesthetic tradition that affirms them,using a language and literary models adapted to meet their cultural purposes. From the verybeginning these poets had a challenging, often agonizing, set of problems: the selection ofsubject matter, themes, and forms to express their thoughts and feelings; the cultivation of avoice expressive of their racial consciousness; the reception of the desired audience; the supportof a publishing and critical infrastructure; the nature of their relationship with other literarytraditions; and the identification of the anima and purpose of their literary efforts. In essence, The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  20. 20. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 15African American poetry is metaphorically the "furious flower" of Gwendolyn Brooks poem"The Second Sermon on the Warpland" (1968), pointing to two significant intertwiningdevelopments: one radical and the other aesthetic.When Lucy Terry wrote "Bars Flight" (1746), the first poem written by an African in America,she set in motion a poetic tradition characterized by the furious pursuit of liberation in all of itsdimensions as well as the cultivation of a cultural voice authenticated by its own distinctive oralforms and remembered, communal values. Speaking of this first development, StephenHenderson in his seminal work Understanding the New Black Poetry (1972) writes that the ideaof liberation permeated African American literary consciousness from slavery to the tumultuous1960s, when poets reflected widespread disenchantment with white middle-class values andembraced cultural values emanating from Africa and the African diaspora. From JupiterHammon to Kevin Powell the idea of liberation has informed and energized African Americanpoetry. African American poets have been creators and critics of social values as they envisioneda world of justice and equality. Nineteenth-century poets voiced the slaves complaint in theabolitionist struggle and rallied the troops in the cause of emancipation and freedom. AfricanAmerican poets in the twentieth century continued to rail against the status quo and protestedattitudes and institutions that stood to impede the civil rights movement that changed the natureof American society. As these poets reflected African American concerns in the context of alarger American culture, they created a body of poetry that grew out of folk roots; legitimizedpoetry as a performative, participatory activity, and succeeded in creating an aesthetic traditiondefined by communal values, the primacy of musicality and improvisation, and inventive style.Roots in LiberationThe fertile soil of American Wesleyanism and the revolutionary fervor for liberty thatculminated in the American Revolution animated the poetic impulse in Jupiter Hammon andPhillis Wheatley. Hammon, the first African American to publish a poem, "An EveningThought" (1761), longed for salvation from this world and acquiesced to enslavement on earth.Phillis Wheatley, the precocious servant of the Wheatleys of Boston, wrote her earliest verse as amere adolescent in the late 1760s. She chose subjects that reflected her comfortable andprivileged position and her absorption of a New England education which emphasized thereading of the Bible and the classics. Her first volume of poems entitled Poems on VariousSubjects, Religious and Moral (1773) contained occasional poems eulogizing notable figures andcelebrating significant events such as George Washingtons appointment as commander of theContinental Army. Phillis Wheatley, kidnapped at the age of seven, brought to America in aslave ship and sold in 1761, noted as the "Sable Muse" of Boston whose fame spread to England,aware of her own fortunate status in contrast to the lot of impoverished blacks in Bostons ghetto,did not commit any of these subjects to poetry. Her own condemnation of slavery and censure ofso-called "Christian" slaveholders and the joys and sorrows associated with her marriage and thebirth of her children are preserved only in personal letters. Whether out of a sense of Christianhumility or a preference for personal detachment taught by neoclassical conventions, she alludedto her own experience only on rare occasions. More pronounced, however, in her poems, as wellas Hammons, are the issues of religious devotedness, patriotism and liberation which were notgenerally clouded by the unsettling moral issues of slavery and universal equality. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  21. 21. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 16It would be more than fifty years before George Moses Horton made slavery the major subject ofhis poems. With The Hope of Liberty (1829), Horton staked his personal freedom on the fruits ofhis pen; however, the book failed to raise the money needed to buy his freedom. He would notrealize his goal until 1865 when the Union Army freed him. Horton, who delighted the universitystudents at Chapel Hill with his humorous and witty jingles and parlayed his art into a money-making enterprise, found liberty a less than lucrative subject matter. However, when FrancesEllen Watkins Harper, the popular abolitionist orator and poet, published her Poems onMiscellaneous Subjects (1854), she found its reception enthusiastic. The volume, which includedpoems on the tragic circumstances of slavery, went through twenty editions by 1874.Other nineteenth-century African American poets anticipated Paul Laurence Dunbars questionconcerning "why the caged bird sings." James Monroe Whitfield appears to speak for several ofhis contemporaries when he has the speaker in "The Misanthropist" say, "In vain thou bidst mestrike the lyre,/and sing a song of mirth and glee." For Whitfield, James Madison Bell andAlberry A. Whitman, the thoughts that troubled their mind -- the evils of slavery, the hope offreedom, struggles with oppression and violence -- were frought "with gloom and darkness, woeand pain." These poets continued the tradition of protest begun by Horton. However, JamesCampbell and Daniel Webster Davis made mirth their dominant lyric and wrote dialect poemsthat mimicked the stereotypes of the popular plantation tradition. Other poets like Ann Plato andHenrietta Ray took the route of romantic escapism.With the publication of Oak and Ivy in 1893, Paul Laurence Dunbar inaugurated a new era inAfrican American literary expression, revealing himself as one of the finest lyricists America hadproduced. His second book Majors and Minors (1895) attracted the favorable attention andendorsement of the literary critic William Dean Howells. Howellss now classic introduction ofDunbars third volume of poems, Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896), became the quintessential literarypiece of damning praise that elevated Dunbars dialect poems above his poems written instandard English. It ensured his acceptance and popularity among an audience of white readerswho were warmed by the good cheer of the hearthside and comforted by the aura of pastoralcontentment, hallmarks of Dunbars bucolic verse. His obligatory mimicking of the plantationtradition conventions popularized by Irwin Russell, Joel Chandler Harris, and Thomas NelsonPage resulted in a perpetuation of these conventions. However, there was no denying for manythe immense popularity, freshness, humor, and catchy rhythms of his memorable dialect poems.Nonetheless, Dunbars meteoric rise to fame did not accommodate a thorough and broadappreciation of the other side of his genius displayed in his non-dialect poems. Tragically, theyoung poet lived a scant ten years after the publication of Lyrics of Lowly Life, years that werefilled with regret that the world had ignored his deeper notes "to praise a jingle in a brokentongue."The turn of the century witnessed African American poets adopting popular literary traditionsand with varied and eclectic approaches joining other poets as the "new" American poetry burstupon the scene. Poets such as Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee Masters, Carl Sandburg, Amy Lowell,Hilda Doolittle, and Robert Frost ushered in a respect for ordinary speech, freedom of choice insubject matter, concentration on vers libre and imagism, an unembarrassed celebration ofAmerican culture, and irreverent experimentation. African American poets were influenced bythese experiments with local color, regionalism, realism, and naturalism and joined other The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  22. 22. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 17American poets in a mutual rejection of sentimentality, didacticism, romantic escape, and poeticdiction.Several African American women nurtured their poetic talent in this atmosphere of literaryfreedom. Angelina Weld Grimké wrote lush lyrics on nature and love. Using conventional forms,Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson explored a womans heart in ways considered less thanconventional by an audience gradually emerging from Victorianism. Anne Spencer, never ascelebrated as her prodigious talent warranted, achieved precision in her imagery and great depthof emotion. Unlike Spencer, who lived quietly in Lynchburg, Virginia, Georgia Douglas Johnsonwas at the hub of Washingtons literary circle and, with the encouragement of several literaryluminaries, published three volumes of poems. However, as was the circumstance of AfricanAmerican women poets during the first three decades of the twentieth century, her limitedexposure and promotion diminished her critical reception.This was not, however, the case for Benjamin Brawley and William Stanley Braithwaite,nationally known scholars who also wrote poetry. Benjamin Brawley was a minor genteel poetbut a major scholar who wrote several pioneering anthologies including The Negro in Literatureand Art (1918) and Early Negro American Writers (1935), which remains an important study ofwriters who published from 1761 to 1900. William Stanley Braithwaite, like Brawley, wrote agenteel, non-racial poetry, reminiscent of British Romantic poets. In 1913 he initiated his annualedition of the Anthology of Magazine Verse which chronicled the outpouring of American poetryfor several decades.Two poets, however, hinted at the emergence of robust, militant racial poetry and tended seedsthat were political and aesthetic. Fenton Johnson struck a note of despair and pessimism muchlike Edgar Lee Masterss and Carl Sandburgs and prophetically envisioned what black urban lifewould become after its euphoric beginnings. W.E.B. DuBois, whose intellectual contribution toAmerican political and historical thought, sociological and cultural inquiry, journalism andimaginative literature towers over the centurys best minds, wrote little poetry. However, hismost anthologized piece, "A Litany of Atlanta," written in response to the Atlanta riot of 1906 isrepresentative and provides a bridge for the strains of protest prevalent in both the 1800s and the1900s.New Negro RenaissanceBy the 1920s it was clear that an unprecedented flowering of literary expression was in fullbloom. Called alternately the New Negro Renaissance and the Harlem Renaissance, this literarymovement, according to Alain Locke, its major promoter and interpreter, was the firstopportunity for group expression and self-determination. As Locke pointed out in The NewNegro (1925), the old attitudes of self-pity and apology were replaced by a frank acceptance ofthe position of African Americans in American society. A growing racial awareness amongAfrican American writers prompted self-discovery -- discovery of the ancestral past in Africa,discovery of folk and cultural roots reaching back into colonial times, and discovery of a newkind of militancy, self-determination and self-reliance. Langston Hughes in his famous manifesto"The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" (1926), captures the prevailing sentiment. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  23. 23. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 18We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selveswithout fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesnt matter.We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If coloredpeople are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesnt matter either. We buildour temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, freewithin ourselves.Artistic freedom was the banner under which Jean Toomer created Cane (1923), one of themasterstrokes of the New Negro Renaissance. An unprecedented collection which combinedpoetry and prose with experimental verve, it was also Toomers revelation piece, an unrestrainedrelease of racial celebration. His poems in this volume are alive with the pine-scented landscapeof Georgia and capture the mysterious and illusive beauty of folk spiritualism.Unlike Toomer, Claude McKay, the first and most radical voice to emerge in the 1920s,personified the tensions and contradictions lived by those too conflicted by racial anomalies tocelebrate. With the publication of Harlem Shadow (1922), he became the poet that bestexpressed their rage and anger and newfound militancy. The popular "If We Must Die,""Baptism," "To the White Fiends" expressed emotions chafing to be exposed. According to AlainLocke, McKay "pulled the psychological cloak off the Negro and revealed even to the Negrohimself, those facts disguised till then by his shrewd protective mimicry or pressed down underthe dramatic mask of living up to what was expected of him." Ironically, McKay wasuncomfortable as a spokesman for the black race, for he saw his poems speaking to theindividual soul of all people.In the midst of the New Negro Renaissance the issue of choice of subject matter was debated bythe literary lights of the period: Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Claude McKay, JamesWeldon Johnson, Arna Bontemps, Jessie Fauset, among many others. However, Countee Cullen,perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, agonized over the issue (freedom in choice ofsubject matter, delineation of character, decorum and representativeness of portrayal, and thebearing race should have on art). The most learned African American poet to emerge in this era,Countee Cullen demonstrated his enormous talent in his first book entitled Color (1925). At theyoung age of twenty-two, Cullen became the most famous and most quoted African Americanwriter at the time.Cullen became assistant editor of Opportunity in 1926 and inaugurated his "A Dark Tower"columns; shortly thereafter he responded to the NAACP questionnaire feature entitled "TheNegro in Art - How Shall He Be Portrayed - A Symposium," which ran in The Crisis in 1926 and1927. He made it clear that he would not "vote for any infringement of the authors right to tell astory, to delineate a character, or to transcribe an emotion in his own way and in light of the truthas he sees it." However, he was quick to add that African American artists have a duty "to createtypes that are truly representative." Just a year later in what appears to be a critical reversal, hesaid that African American artists should not be bound by their race or restricted to race matterssimply because they are a part of that racial group. Ironically, the poet who was recognized asbest representing the emerging New Negro resented having his poetry judged on the basis ofrace. "If I am going to be a poet at all, I am going to be POET and not NEGRO POET."Langston Hughes was quick and relentless in his attack on Cullens creed in "The Negro Artist The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  24. 24. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 19and the Racial Mountain" (1926). Hughes analysis and Cullens own fierce battle with doubleconsciousness coalesce in the conundrum no better expressed than in Cullens own lines in "YetDo I Marvel" (1925):Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:To make a poet black, and bid him sing!These lines capture the essence of Cullens highest achievement and paradoxically the confluenceof his most troubling dilemmas. It was his blackness that was at once his perceived handicap andhis greatest asset.Cullen was one of several poets who benefited from the numerous publishing opportunities andliterary prizes available to promising writers. Under the editorship of Charles S. Johnson,Opportunity published works by Renaissance writers and offered the Alexander Pushkin Award.The Crisis under the leadership of editor W.E.B. DuBois and literary editor Jessie RedmondFauset was a showplace for literary artists and annually awarded poetry prizes for outstandingentries. For example, Arna Bontemps early success at writing poetry won him recognition andprizes from both Opportunity and Crisis magazines in 1926 and 1927. Bontempss poem "ABlack Man Talks of Reaping," which won the Crisis prize, is representative of the note ofbitterness that is a consistent tone in much Renaissance literature. It is also important to note thatthese magazines were instrumental in encouraging writers like Bontemps and developing anaudience for their work.The development of the African American poetic tradition paralleled the development of anelaborate oral tradition that encompassed every aspect and attitude of black life, offering whatRalph Ellison called "the first drawings of any groups character." Sterling Brown, another criticwho explored fully and consistently the inexhaustible possibilities of the folk tradition, found inits storehouse of songs, tales, sayings and speech the originality, vitality, truthfulness andcomplexity that would be his touchstones in the assessment of literature. The poetry of thenineteenth century with its mimicry of popular stereotypes, sentimentalism and escapism wouldhave been found wanting if held to these standards.However, during the early twentieth century, especially during the period known as the HarlemRenaissance, African American poetry began to flower because of a greater exploration of theblack voice as it consciously recognized and mined the black folklore. African American poets invarying degrees engaged in a kind of literary tropism by turning away from western cosmologyand mythology in preference for expressing their own cosmology and cultural myths. In theirattempt to find a voice expressive of their racial consciousness, they turned to cultural tropesabounding in the universe of folk parlance. Among the African American poets who explored theunique vernacular resources of the blues, spirituals, proverbs, tales, sayings were James WeldonJohnson, Langston Hughes, and Sterling Brown. James Weldon Johnson played a significant roleas anthologist-critic in introducing African American poetry to the American public with TheBook of American Negro Poetry (1922). In his preface, Johnson initiates the debate on thelimitations of dialect by signaling African American writers rejection of conventionalized dialectassociated with the minstrelsy and by calling for a form of expression that would not limit thepoets emotional and intellectual response to black life. In some of his best poetry collected in The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  25. 25. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 20Gods Trombones (1927), he shows his skillful treatment of the black folk sermon and his use ofracially authentic language.Langston Hughes, indisputably the poet laureate of Harlem, was the most experimental andversatile poet of the New Negro Renaissance, launching his career as a poet at the age ofnineteen with what has become his signature poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." Over the nextforty-six years, Hughes had as his goal to discover the flow and rhythm of black life. Authoringmore than 860 poems, he never tired of exploring the color, vibrancy, and texture of blackculture and "his" beloved people who created it. In his first two volumes of poetry, The WearyBlues (1926) and Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927) such poems as "Lenox Avenue Midnight,"Jazzonia," and "To a Black Dancer in the Little Savoy," recreate the jazzy, blues-tinged,frenzied, exotic world of Harlem nights.Hughes called himself a folk poet, and he had faith in the inexhaustible resources to be mined infolk music and speech. He sought to combine the musical forms of the blues, work songs,ballads, and jazz stylings with poetic expression in such a way as to preserve the originality ofthe former and achieve the complexity of the latter. As Hughes biographer Arnold Rampersadsaid, Hughes fusion of African American music into his poetry was his "key technicalcommitment." Some of his critics will argue that he remained too close to the folk form toachieve much beyond weak imitation and others considered his approach too simple and lackingin intellectual sophistication and rigor. But for Hughes it was enough that he became the voice ofAfrican American dreamers. In tones that ranged from poignantly conciliatory to acerbicallyradical, Hughes continued to point out the great distance between the premise and the promise ofAmerica in his last volumes Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951), Ask Your Mama (1961) andThe Panther and the Lash (1967) published posthumously.Like Langston Hughes, Sterling A. Brown (1901-1989) relished his title of folk poet. As such,Browns most significant achievement is his subtle adaptation of folk forms to the literature.Experimenting with the blues, spirituals, work songs, and ballads, he invented combinations thatat their best retain the ethos of folk forms and intensify the literary quality of the poetry.In his poem "Ma Rainey," one of the finest poems in his first volume of poetry, Southern Road(1932), Brown skillfully brings together the ballad and blues forms and, demonstrating hisinventive genius, creates the blues-ballad which is a portrait of the venerated blues singer and achronicle of her transforming performance. With a remarkable ear for the idiom, cadence, andtones of folk speech, Brown absorbed its vibrant qualities in his poetry. Brown came as close asany poet had before to achieving James Weldon Johnsons ideal of original racial poetry "capableof voicing the deepest and highest emotions and aspirations, and allowing the widest range ofsubjects and the widest scope of treatment."The next three decades, 1930-1960, trace the continuing careers of Langston Hughes andSterling A. Brown and mark the ascendancy of Melvin B. Tolson, Robert Hayden, MargaretWalker and Gwendolyn Brooks. These major voices joined a growing list of poets who broughtAfrican American poetic expression to new heights of competence and maturity. The listincludes Sam Allen (Paul Vesey), Waring Cuney, Frank Marshall Davis, Owen Dodson, RayDurem, Frank Horne, and Richard Wright. These poets cultivate their individual voices by The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  26. 26. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 21synthesizing elements from the western literary tradition and their own vernacular tradition.They explored history as a riveting subject matter for their poetry, and they stretched theboundaries of language to have it hold the depth and complexity that the new poetry requires.These poets, in keeping with the continuing development of the radical/political strain in AfricanAmerican poetry, also pursued a brand of social justice that emphasized integrationalism and asensitivity to international connections and socialistic movements.Melvin B. Tolson demonstrates all of these interests in his poetry. In brilliant strokes of ironyand iconoclasm, he produced Rendezvous with America (1944), Libretto for the Republic ofLiberia (1953), and Harlem Gallery (1965). Tolsonian style is a synthesis of classical imagery,racial symbolism, and extensive historical allusions. In "Psi," one of the sections of HarlemGallery, Tolson describes the "Negro artist" as a "flower of the gods, whose growth is dwarfed atan early stage." Certainly, this was not Tolsons personal complaint; for, in truth, only his criticalresponse was dwarfed, never his considerable gifts as a poet.Equally gifted, Robert Hayden throughout his distinguished career as a poet held to his credo thatpoets "are the keepers of a nations conscience, the partisans of freedom and justice, even whenthey eschew political involvement. By the very act of continuing to function as poets they areaffirming what is human and eternal." Hayden, like Countee Cullen, insisted that poets shouldnot be restricted to racial themes or any subject matter or polemic that would fetter their artisticexpression. His consistent refusal to be limited by subject matter or to be relegated to a doublestandard of criticism ironically found him at odds with the white literary establishment as well asthe 1960s proponents of the Black Aesthetic and often exacted stiff penalties of critical neglectand racial ostracism. Though Hayden never retreated from his position, two of his mostoutstanding poems, "Middle Passage" (1945) and "Frederick Douglass" (1947), show his lifelongcommitment to exploring African American history and folklore. In A Ballad of Remembrance(1962), Hayden brought together revised versions of these poems and some of the best portraitsof historical figures in American literature including "The Ballad of Nat Turner," "RunagateRunagate," and "Homage to the Empress of the Blues." Ironically, because of the excellence ofhis book, Robert Hayden, who had resisted racial categorization in judging his poetry, won TheGrand Prix de la Poesie, a prize reserved to honor the best poet of Negritude in the world.Untroubled by a Hayden-like sensitivity to racial subject matter, Margaret Walker made the fullabsorption of racial material one of her highest goals. In her most famous poem, "For MyPeople" she mirrors the collective soul of black folk. As W.E.B. DuBois had succeeded inannouncing the political, economic and cultural strivings of African Americans in The Souls ofBlack Folk (1903), Walker accomplished a stunning psychological portrait of "her people"during the unsettling years of Depression, and throughout the succeeding decades. As EugeniaCollier writes the poem "melts away time and place and it unifies Black listeners," deriving itspower from "the reservoir of beliefs, values, and archetypal characters yielded by our collectivehistorical experience." With a verbal brilliance owing to an impressive absorption of the myths,rituals, music, and folklore of the African American tradition, Margaret Walker shares hercultural memories and creates new ones in For My People (1942), Prophets for a New Day(1970) and October Journey (1972). The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  27. 27. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 22Another major voice, Gwendolyn Brooks, has produced some of the most outstanding poetrywritten in the twentieth century. With poetry that benefits from great compression, technicalacumen, and emotional complexity, no poet lays better claim to heir of two hundred years of thematuration of African American poetry than Gwendolyn Brooks. In 1950 Brooks won thePulitzer Prize for her volume of poetry Annie Allen, becoming the first African American to winthis award. In 1968 she was named Poet Laureate of Illinois, succeeding the late Carl Sandburg.Author of more than twenty books including A Street in Bronzeville (1945), The Bean Eaters(1960), In the Mecca (1968) and Riot (1969), she is a master at manipulating language until itdistills the pure essence of the life and character that she astutely observes in Chicago and theworld. Brooks joined other poets who were writing in the 1950s -- Owen Dodson, Sam Allen,Ray Durem, Margaret Esse Danner, Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs -- in responding poeticallyto a nation carrying the anlage of social change in its mounting civil rights movement. The year1955 witnessed the Montgomery Bus Boycott which brought Rosa Parks and Martin LutherKing, Jr. to national prominence; it also witnessed the senseless lynching of Emmett Till, afourteen-year-old black boy accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. The latterevent had a profound effect on Gwendolyn Brooks and is the subject of two of her poems, "ABronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi, Meanwhile, a Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon" and"The Last Quatrain of the Ballad of Emmett Till."Furious FlowerTen years later another event, the assassination of Malcolm X, would capture the imagination ofa group of younger poets and be the catalyst for the Black Arts Movement and the furiousflowering of African American poetry that it produced. Malcolms ideas provided the radical,philosophical framework for the movement. According to Larry Neal in Visions of a LiberatedFuture (1989), he "touched all aspects of contemporary black nationalism." Malcolms voicesounded the tough urban street style, and his life became a symbol and inspiration. With hiswords resonating in their consciousness, and his image inspiring a revolutionary world vision,poets such as David Henderson, James A. Emanuel, Robert Hayden and Etheridge Knight paidtribute to him after his death.Three poets inspired by the example of Malcolm X emerged as the moving spirits and visionariesof the Black Arts Movement in the late 1960s: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Larry Neal, andAskia Muhammad Touré (Rolland Snellings). Baraka saw the movement as a revolutionary force"to create an art, a literature that would fight for black peoples liberation with as much intensityas Malcolm X our Fire Prophet and the rest of the enraged masses who took to the streets inBirmingham after the four little girls had been murdered by the Klan and FBI, or the ones whowere dancing in the street in Harlem, Watts, Newark, Detroit." Baraka captures in this statementthe revolutionary fervor and commitment that led him, Larry Neal, and Askia Touré to create theBlack Arts Repertory Theatre School in Harlem, that led to the collaboration with Neal inpublishing Black Fire (1968), the seminal anthology of the period; and that guided his constantspiritual striving toward building a black nation in America.Out of this striving came a poetry that was emblazoned with the liberation struggle. Baraka, poet,activist and playwright, gained a strong reputation as a poet among the avant-garde artists ofGreenwich Village during the 1950s and collected his early poetry in Preface to a Twenty- The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  28. 28. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 23Volume Suicide Note (1961). Since that time he has published fourteen books of poetry includingThe Dead Lecturer (1964), Black Magic Poetry (1969), In Our Terribleness (1970), Its NationTime (1970), Spirit Reach (1972), Funk Lore (1996) and Wise Whys Ys: A Griots Tale (1995).His poetry is experimental, explosive, improvisational, and allied to black music, especially jazz.Like Baraka, Larry Neal wrote poetry that had the sound and the pulsing, pumping rhythm ofblack music. His early death at forty-three curtailed a brilliant career as a poet, essayist, teacherand community activist. However, his essays, drama, and poetry have been collected in Visionsof a Liberated Future: Black Arts Movement Writings (1989). "Poppa Stoppa Speaks from HisGrave" and "Dont Say Goodbye to the Porkpie Hat" are excellent examples of the hip, urbane,jazz-digging style that was his signature.The music of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Theolonious Monk, and other jazz greats alsosuffuses the poetry of Askia M. Touré. To a rich lyricism he adds a cosmic vision that was firstapparent in JuJu: Magic Songs for the Black Nation (with Ben Caldwell, 1970) and Songhai(1973) and continues in From the Pyramids to the Projects (1990). His commitment to raisingthe national consciousness carried over to the 1990s, when his messages challenged thedestructive forces wielding genocide both physical and mental. Reflecting on the Black ArtsMovement, Touré contends that it was "the largest cultural upsurge that our people have had inthis century and that we were organically-linked writers, activists, musicians, playwrights andsuch."Several forces converged to create the outpouring of African American poetry that has takenplace since 1960. The political and social upheavals brought about by the civil rights movementof the 1950s and 1960s ushered in a dramatic change in the legal and social status of AfricanAmericans. With its non-violent strategies of sit-ins, marches, freedom rides, boycotts, voterregistration drives, the movement united two generations of African American poets around thedream of freedom and equality and supplied them with a wealth of cultural heroes includingMartin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Emmett Till, Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, whobecame the subject matter of their poetry. The assassination of Martin Luther King inspired agroundswell of poems from such poets as Nikki Giovanni, Haki Madhubuti, Sam Allen, QuincyTroupe, and Mari Evans. In the wake of the urban riots and fires that were the peoples responseto Kings martyrdom came the Black Power movement with its bold language of racialconfrontation, cultural separation, and its insistence upon self defense, self reliance, and blackpride. With their iconoclastic attacks on all aspects of white middle class values, it is notsurprising that the poets who shaped the Black Arts movement, the Black Powers cultural wing,rejected unequivocally Western poetic conventions. Their poetic technique emphasized freeverse; typographical stylistics; irreverent, often scatological, diction; and linguisticexperimentation. In addition to Baraka, Neal and Touré, prominent among these poets wereSonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Haki Madhubuti, Etheridge Knight, A.B. Spellman, Calvin C.Hernton, Mari Evans, David Henderson, June Jordan, Clarence Major, Jayne Cortez, HenryDumas, Carolyn M. Rodgers, and Quincy Troupe.Following Maulana Ron Karengas dictum that black art must be "functional, collective andcommitted," these poets addressed their messages primarily to African Americans and Africanpeople in the diaspora, and in their messages the artist and the political activist become one. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  29. 29. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 24Poets such as Sam Allen, Margaret Burroughs, and Margaret Danner set out to reclaim the lostAfrican heritage, continuing the "literary Garveyism" that began in the 1920s. The strains of PanAfricanism, nurtured by W.E.B. DuBois appear in the poetry of W. Keorapetse Kgositisile, anexile from South Africa, and the confluence of African and European cultures mesh in the poetryof West Indian poet Derek Walcott, continuing the tradition of the Negritude movement. Notonly were these poets extending their boundaries, but they were also exploring the interior spacesof the African American identity. Henry Dumas, "whose brief life held out the promise ofbrilliant and passionate writing," according to Eugene Redmond in Drumvoices (1976), studdedhis poetry with raw and angry dimensions of the African American psyche. Conrad Kent Rivers,who also died too young, was concerned with his inner world where pain, violence anddestruction only ended with death. In the hands of Lucille Clifton, Lance Jeffers, RaymondPatterson, and Johari Amini, among others, the concept of blackness is sculpted into a compositeof courage, endurance, beauty, and stoicism - positive images for a nation reconstructing itself.And more often than not, these poets created their own journals to disseminate their messages.Hoyt Fuller, the influential editor of Negro Digest and Black World, edited NOMMO, the journalof the OBAC Writers Workshop and, like Gwendolyn Brooks, had a great impact on the youngerpoets as mentor and cultural guide. Tom Dent and Kalamu ya Salaam edited Nkombo, the journalof BLKARTSOUTH, a cultural organization that grew out of the Free Southern Theater in NewOrleans. Burning Spear featured the poetry of the Howard poets such as Lance Jeffers. Thecollection was an outgrowth of the Dasein Literary Society at Howard University. As The Crisisand Opportunity magazines had stimulated artistic and intellectual activity during the New NegroRenaissance, several journals founded during the late 1960s and 1970s increased readership forAfrican American poetry over the next twenty years. Notable among them are the Journal ofBlack Poetry, founded by Joe Goncalves; The Black Scholar, founded by Robert Chrisman;Black Dialogue, founded by Abdul Karim and Edward S. Spriggs; Callaloo, founded in 1974 byCharles H. Rowell, Tom Dent and Jerry Ward; and Obsidian, founded by Alvin Aubert in 1975with Gerald Barrax assuming the editorship in 1985. Many poets were also responsible forestablishing presses that encouraged emerging poets to publish. Haki Madhubutis Third WorldPress in Chicago, Dudley Randalls Broadside Press in Detroit, and Naomi Long Madgetts LotusPress became invaluable outlets for African American poetic expression.The proliferation of the ideas and impact of the Black Arts Movement was due largely to theformation of cultural organizations and Writers Workshops committed to encouraging AfricanAmerican poets and increasing readership among an African American audience. The UmbraWorkshop first gathered in Greenwich Village and Lower East Side of New York in 1941 andlisted among its members David Henderson, Calvin C. Hernton, Tom Dent, Ishmael Reed, AskiaM. Touré, Raymond Patterson, Charles Patterson and Lorenzo Thomas. It produced the firstissue of Umbra in 1963. In Chicago, Haki Madhubuti and Walter Bradford were among thefounding members of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), which broughttogether Carolyn Rodgers, Gwendolyn Brooks, Johari Amini, Sterling Plumpp, Eugene Perkins,Ebon (Leo Thomas Hale), and Angela Jackson, among others. Zealous in carrying out the idealsof black solidarity and empowerment, they read in schools, community centers, bars, parks, onstreet corners. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  30. 30. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 25Since the 1970s, these contemporary African American poets have developed a form ofcommunal performance art that draws heavily on what Stephen Henderson called black musicand black speech as poetic referents. The poets work evidenced a full absorption of musicalforms such as blues and jazz, call-and-response features, improvising lines, evoking tones,rhythm, structure of folk form, and the entire range of spoken virtuosity seen in the sermon, therap, the dozens, signifying, toasts, and folktales. Poets such as Jayne Cortez, Sonia Sanchez,Haki Madhubuti, Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Askia M. Touré, Victor Hernandez Cruz, SunRa, and Ted Joans discovered how to transform the printed poem into a performance thatunleashes the elegance and power of black speech and music. For example, Jayne Cortezs abilityto evoke the jazz sound of Arnette Colemen, Bessie Smith and John Coltrane in her first volumeof poetry Pisstained Stairs (1969) suggested the power that she would develop as a performancepoet. Sonia Sanchez significantly influenced the cultural landscape by the urgency of hersustained committed voice, often rendered in her deeply spiritual chanting/singing style. EugeneRedmond, Sarah Webster Fabio, Gil Scott-Heron, and Ted Joans are representative of thosepoets who incorporate "rap," blues, jazz, and soul music in their poetry making it move with therhythm of contemporary beats. Nikki Giovanni achieved national popularity as she wedded hervisionary, truth-telling poetry with the sounds of gospel music in her best-selling album "Truth IsOn Its Way" in 1971. Haki Madhubuti, with his explosive, annunciatory kinetic rap style, hasbeen one of the most imitated poets among young artists seeking to develop a performance style.Though much of the poetry was involved with music, orature and performance, for Alvin Aubertthe poem will have to "perform itself on the page." His poems in If Winter Come: CollectedPoems, 1967-1992 (1994), Pinkie Gordon Lanes I Never Scream: New and Selected Poems(1985) and Naomi Long Madgetts Octavia and Other Poems (1988) illustrate a reliance uponquieter, muted strains to enhance their poetry.The cultural movement of the 1960s and 1970s not only changed the way African Americansthought about their political and social status as American citizens, for the poets it also plantedthe seeds for a truly liberated exploration of literary possibilities. Poets such as Lucille Clifton,Audre Lorde, Jay Wright, and Michael S. Harper cultivated their poetic imaginations in line withmore personal and individualized goals. In An Ordinary Woman (1974), Lucille Clifton floodsher private and public identities with light, illuminating family histories and relationships inepigrammatic flashes. Audre Lorde, during the course of a thirty-year career, struggled againstthe poets death of being "choked into silence by icy distinction." In volumes such as Coal (1973)and The Black Unicorn (1978) she resisted categorization and definition by a narrow expectationof her humanity by boldly exploring all of the essences of womanhood. Jay Wrights eclecticismled him to create poetry that is a multicultural mosaic of his interest in history, anthropology,cosmology, religion and social thought as evident in Death as History (1967). As suggested bythe title of Michael S. Harpers second book of poems, History Is Your Own Heartbeat, history isthe heartbeat of his poetry as he chronicles personal and kinship relationships and culturalhistories that link complex emotional and philosophical experiences shared by diverse ethnicgroups.Rita Dove, acknowledging her own debt to the Black Arts Movement, said that if it had not beenfor the movement, America would not be ready to accept a poet who explored a text other thanblackness. Unencumbered by a necessarily political message, Dove in her Pulitzer Prize winningbook Thomas and Beulah (1987) brings wholeness and elegance to the histories of her The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  31. 31. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 26grandparents. Dove, who held the post of Poet Laureate of the United States from 1993 until1995, is representative of a large accomplished group of poets who published their first poemsduring the late 1970s and 1980s: Yusef Komunyakaa, Cornelius Eady, Melvin Dixon, DoloresKendrick, Thylias Moss, Toi Derricotte, Gloria Oden, and Sherley Anne Williams.Elizabeth Alexander is emblematic of the promise and wide range of variegated voices that havesprung forth during the first half of the 1990s. Her first collection, The Venus Hottentot (1990),reveals poems that explore the interior lives of historical figures, exposing emotions andexperiences that strikingly illuminate public concerns. In a poem called "The Dark Room: AnInvocation" she hails talented young poets who make up The Dark Room Collective: ThomasSayers Ellis, Sharan Strange, Kevin Young, Carl Phillips and Natasha Trethewey, to name a few.In highly individual styles, they shape metaphors and images in a fisted reading of contemporarylife. Other young poets, such as Ras Baraka, Kevin Powell, Jabari Asim and Esther Iverem, placethemselves in the tradition of struggle that they see as artistic, political, spiritual, andpsychological; they seek to revisit the ideals of the Black Arts Movement in the language of ahip-hop nation.In the closing decade of the twentieth century, African American poetry is again experiencing anexpansive, renewing phrase that some have termed the "Third Renaissance." This sense ofrenewal was dramatically evident at the Furious Flower Conference in 1994, when the largestgathering of poets and critics in more than two decades, met at James Madison University inVirginia to read, discuss, and celebrate African American poetry. The conference, dedicated toGwendolyn Brooks, brought together three generations of poets. In doing so it symbolized thecontinuity in the African American poetic expression and signaled the dimensions of its futuredevelopment. Seasoned poets who began writing in the 1960s are continuing to write with skilland power. Sonia Sanchezs Wounded in the House of a Friend (1995) and Gerald BarraxsLeaning Against the Sun (1992) are prime examples. Derek Walcotts Nobel Prize for Literaturein 1992, Rita Doves appointment as Poet Laureate of the United States, and Gwendolyn Brooksnaming by the National Endowment for the Humanities as the Jefferson Lecturer for 1994represent the unprecedented achievement of African American poets as recipients of the nationshighest honors. This newest renaissance is also marked by the emergence of a group of youngpoets who have been published in such anthologies as In the Tradition: An Anthology of YoungBlack Writers (1992), edited by Kevin Powell and Ras Baraka and On the Verge: EmergingPoets and Artists (1993), edited by Thomas Sayers Ellis and Joseph Lease.Just as Gwendolyn Brooks poem "TheSecond Sermon on the Warpland" suggests "furiousflower" as a metaphor for the aesthetic chronicle of African American poetry, it also encouragesthe emerging generation to bloom "in the noise and whip of the whirlwind." After 250 years ofAfrican American poetry, these young poets are "the last of the loud," ferocious in their call forhumanism and beautiful in their response to the magic and music of language.from The Oxford Companion to African American Literature. Ed. William L. Andrews, TrudierHarris and Frances Smith Foster. Copyright © Oxford University Press. The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson
  32. 32. Form Anthology of Modern American Poetry (Oxford) | 27 Return to The Black Arts MovementDocuments from the Black ArtsMovement "On Black Art" by Ron KarengaBlack Art must be for the people, by the people and from the people. That is to say, it must befunctional, collectiveand committing.Soul is extra-scientific, that is to say, outside of science; therefore we will allow no scientificdisproof of it.All that we do and create is based on tradition and reason, that is to say, foundation andmovement. We began tobuild on a traditional [sic], but it is out of movement that we complete our creation.Art for arts sake is an invalid concept, all art reflects the value system from which it comes.We say inspiration is the real basis of education. In a word, images inspire us, academicassertions bore us.Our art is both form and feeling but more feeling than form.Our creative motif must be revolution; all art that does not discuss or contribute to revolutionarychange is invalid.That is [...] why the "blues" are invalid, they teach resignation, in a word, acceptance of reality--and we have cometo change reality.There is no better subject for Black artists than Black people, and the Black artist who doesntchoose and develop The Black Arts Movement Cary Nelson