Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Poets as Essayists During the Black Arts Era

Beyond publishing poems, Larry Neal, Carolyn Rodgers, Amiri Baraka, Eugene B. Redmond, Nikki Giovanni, Dudley Randall, and several other poets collectively produced a large number of reviews and essays. In retrospect, the active participation of poets in the production of prose during the Black Arts Movement was quite remarkable. Few, if any, literary movements had so many poets make so many influential contributions in prose.

Carolyn Rodger's essay "Black Poetry--Where It's At;" Larry Neal's "The Black Arts Movement;" "And Shine Swam On," and "Any Day Now;" Amiri Baraka's Blues People; "In Search of The Revolutionary Theater;" and Black Music; Haki Madubuti's Dynamite Voices; Sarah Webster Fabio's "Tripping with Black Writing" and “Who Speaks Negro? Who Is Black?;" and Eugene Redmond's Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry were widely read and cited works. These pieces and others gave poets a vital presence in the critical discourse.

Poets were active involved in the evaluations and assessments of poetry as well. Nikki Giovanni, Johari Amini, Julia Fields, Sterling Plumpp, Dudley Randall, Haki Madhubuti, and Carolyn Rodgers wrote the lion's share of the hundreds of reviews of poetry that appeared in Negro Digest / Black World during the black arts era.

The fact that black poets were essayists also led audiences to seek out the writers' perspectives on a range of issues. When the poets presented their poems on college campuses and at cultural events across the country, they tended to speak about topics beyond the typical realms of poetry. Even today, the presentation of poetry is just one feature of a poetry reading by figures such as Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhubuti, Amiri Baraka, and Nikki Giovanni. They are likely to expound on politics, culture, history, and black studies in addition to reading poems. Indeed, poets of the black arts era were "black public intellectuals" long before that concept was widely used.  

In addition to the significance of poets writing essays, it's worth noting that platforms were created and audiences were cultivated to appreciate the prose contributions and commentary of poets. Editors like Hoyt Fuller of Negro Digest / Black World; Dudley Randall of Broadside Press; Dingane Joe Goncalves of The Journal of Black Poetry; and many publishers and editors took important steps tor make sure that poets received opportunities to publish their creative and critical works.

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

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