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Black Literature: Hughes, Cullen, Baraka, and Madhubuti
The term “Jazzoetry” was coined by the Last Poets, who used it as the name of one of their albums. The term was used for the revolutionary style of poetry with a jazz background that they had popularized during their 70s heyday. While the term may not have applied as much to the written word, especially since before her, there were black poets who wrote with an Afrocentric flow and enthusiasm that was deeply inspiring.
Amiri Baraka is one such poet and is considered the founding father of the Black Arts Movement. He was born Everett LeRoi Jones, in Newark, New Jersey, on October 7, 1934.
Baraka (still writing under his given name LeRoi Jones) found early success, winning an Obie in 1964 for his racially charged play, “The Dutchman,” which focused on the brief but volatile relationship between a young black man and a blonde. tempting. He later opened a school that emphasized blackness in an artistic, musical, poetic, and dramatic context.
He later divorced his (white) wife and adopted a more nationalist perspective and changed his name to Imamu Amiri Baraka. He remarried to Sylvia Robinson, who took the name Amina Baraka.
In 1961, Baraka published his work, Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note. Two years later came Blues People. But his real fame came when his poetry took a stance similar to that of the Black Muslim Movement and took on what many called an “anti-Semitic” tenor. Since then he has published 17 more books, including Four Black Revolutionary Plays (1969), Raise Race Rays Raize: Essays Since 1965, 1971, The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka (1984), and Somebody Blow Up America” (2001).
In 2002 Baraka was named Poet Laureate of New Jersey. One of his critics is a black entertainer and anti-affirmative action crusader. Ward Connerly. He described Baraka as, “One of America’s leading haters and anti-Semites,” referring to the poem, “Somebody Blown Up America.” This particular piece accused Israel of having prior knowledge of the 911 attacks and doing nothing to alert the Americans. Due to the ensuing controversy, Baraka resigned from his post in 2003.
Connerly elaborated, “The New Jersey Council on the Humanities and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts formed a panel that appointed this ‘artist’ as Poet Laureate. That’s right. They appointed him to this prestigious paid position (10,000 dollars for two a year, no less) despite the fact that he had published dozens of anti-Jewish, anti-white, pro-Black Panther skits over the past 25 years…Did they really think he was hate-filled? , Jew basher? , were hip-hop lyrics really poetic?…Now I’m starting to wonder if there’s no more Amiri Barakas out there, dishing out filth and hate under the guise of another country’s poet laureate. Nope it hurts none of us to control this.”
Technically different, Countee Cullen was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 30, 1903, (although for most of his life he claimed New York City as his birthplace. Along with Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Phillis Wheatley and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Among other things, Cullen was one of the stars of the Harlem Renaissance. During this time he published several books of poetry, Color (1925), Copper Sun (1927), and The Ballad of the Brown Girl ” (1927).
While his subjects were black, many believed he “wrote white.” Cullen experimented with sonnets, quatrains and other poetic forms and was influenced by John Keats. However, his work often dealt with racial issues.
Such a poem is “Simoni Qireni speaks”:
He never spoke a word to me / And yet he called my name /
It never beckoned me / And yet I knew and came.
At first I said: “I will not carry / his cross on my back /
He only seeks to put it there / That my skin is black.
But he was dying for a dream / And he was very gentle,
And in His eyes shone a gleam / Men travel far to seek.
It was my own pity bought / I did it for Christ alone
What all Rome could not have done / With bruised eyelash or stone.
There is a symmetry and flow to his words. It is simple but powerful in its expression of suffering. Cullen died in 1946, falling victim to high blood pressure.
Haki R. Madhubuti is a poet who rose in literature in the Black Arts movement. He achieved his first successes writing poetry during the 1960s and early 1970s writing under his given name, Don L. Lee (He changed his name in 1973). He is also an essayist and is the founder and editor at Third World Press, the oldest black publishing company in the United States. He is also a renowned lecturer and educator, serving as director of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at Chicago State University.
Madhubuti was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on February 23, 1942, but grew up in Detroit. He began his literary career in 1967 with the publication of a collection of essays entitled “Think about Black”. Some of his other poetic offerings include the collections, We Walk the Way of the World and Don’t Cry, Shout. He has published 18 other books, including, Black Brothers: Outdated, Single, Dangerous, The African-American Family in Transition, and Claiming the Land: Race, Rage, Rape, Redemption.
His perspective is decidedly pro-black, seeking to raise issues for discussion and sharing. One of his awareness-raising works is Change, which says:
let’s go by ourselves/
both pages are broken now./
cross the corner strip,/
let the year/division lift you above that swift height./
He again takes a hollow approach in “My Brothers, My Brothers”:
my brothers I will not tell you /
who you love or not
i will tell only you/
Black women have not been/
i will say/
we are at war and this/
Black men in America are/
being removed from/
Madhubuti states, “We are equipped only to survive, but survival is not enough. We go to malls and shops to buy products from people we don’t even like…We are buying things and we worship ownership. But first we must take ownership of ourselves – when you don’t know yourself, you don’t own yourself. If all black children were made aware of their culture and history beyond the context of slavery, they would rise above the limited frustrations of others and themselves”.
James Mercer Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. He died on May 22, 1967 of cancer. During that 65-year period he created an extensive body of work that includes more than 25 books (16 were books of poetry), twenty plays, several autobiographical works, and radio and television scripts. Some of his most notable works are “The Big Sea”, “Wonder As I Wander”, “Shakespeare In Harlem” and “The Best of Simple”.
At 17 he went to Mexico for a year, and despite being with his father he found what he didn’t like. He also served in the military and traveled the world, including several trips to Russia and Africa. The latter influenced his writing, especially the poem, “Zaku speaks of rivers”.
Langston began writing poetry in the eighth grade. Years later and against his father’s wishes, he dropped out of Columbia University. Soon after that, his first poem was published (“Ziku speaks of rivers”). Known primarily as a poet, Hughes distinguished himself by writing plays, essays and novels as well. He created a series of books about a witty character he named, Jess B. Simple.
But his most famous work is the poem “A deferred dream”:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry / like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a wound – / And then run? /
Does it smell like rotting meat? / Or crust and sugar on–
like a syrupy dessert? /
Maybe it just sits / like a heavy load./
Hughes asserted, “We younger black artists now aim to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are happy, we’re happy. If they’re not, it doesn’t matter. We know that we are beautiful. And ugly too… If the colored people are satisfied, we are satisfied, if they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter. We build our temples for tomorrow, as strong as we know how and stand on top of the mountain, free within oneself”.
Hughes’ peak was in the 20s. After a trip to Africa in 1923, he returned and flourished during the Harlem Renaissance. He took a job working under Carter G. Woodson, editor of the Journal of, but returned to Harlem in 1926. He also returned to school (University of Pennsylvania), earning his BA degree three years later.
The influence of these four men is alive and well, their works serving as an impetus for today’s new cadre of black poets.
Paul P. Reuben, “Amiri Baraka / LeRoi Jones,” Perspectives in American Literature, chapter 10
Ward Connerly, “Amiri Baraka Hits New Level,” The Washington Times, October 11, 2002
Profile of Amiri Baraka, Wikipedia
Langston Hughes Biography, Wikipedia
Andrew P. Jackson (Sekou Molefi Baako), “Langston Hughes” No additional information available
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