Saturday, September 3, 2011

Amiri Baraka : A Leading Black Arts Figure

During the black arts movement, Amiri Baraka became a leading figure, a widely published poet and essayist as well as a revered public speaker and political activist.

Many observers highlight Baraka's turn to a more politicized approach to artistic thought and production in 1965 shortly after Malcolm X was killed. In some respects, Baraka seemed to step into an important void--a hole left open with the tragic death of a black nationalist and radical charismatic figure.

"I must admit," wrote the novelist Charles Johnson, "that no other speaker moved me quite so thoroughly. Flanked by guards wearing dashikis (this in 1969), Baraka read poetry--sang it, really--[and] carried away the breath of the young, impressionable audience with him.”

Can you imagine that--a poet flanked by bodyguards as he gave his readings? What was a poet saying and doing to require that kind of protection? As Johnson's comments suggest, Baraka's poetry and modes of delivery (verbal and non-verbal) captured the imaginations of audiences.

Perhaps part of what made Baraka such an important and consequential black arts poet was that he was viewed as something other than a poet.

This entry is part of a series--30 Days of Black Arts Poetry.

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