Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Decline of a Movement, the legacies of Black Arts Poetry

The demise of major publishing institutions during the mid to late 1970s such as Negro Digest / Black World and Broadside Press and the downfall of black racial political groups signaled the decline of the Black Arts Movement. Poets and editors had successfully produced large numbers of anthologies featuring African American verse between the late 1960s and early 1970s, apparently making the demand for such collections less pressing than before.

“Now that the spectacular Black Arts Movement seems to have run its course,” explained Stephen Henderson in 1977, “the question of evaluation takes on crucial importance."

During the 1980s and 1990s, university-based scholars of African American literature began to publish books and journal articles in greater numbers. Consequently, they tended to concentrate on novels and theory. Poetry received far less attention, at least in some respects.

But in some realms, black poetry continued to flourish. Writers such as Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Jayne Cortez, and Amiri Baraka remained popular and much sought-after presenters and poets. Figures such as Haki Madhubuti nd Kalamu ya Salaam offered guidance for large numbers of local writers in Chicago and New Orleans, respectively.

Not long after the publication of his book Drumvoices, Eugene B. Redmond began taking photographs of poets, novelists, musicians, and cultural workers at various events across the country. Between the late 1970s and the present, he has taken more than 100,000 photographs. Among other attributes, Redmond's extensive collection of images featuring poets who emerged during the black arts era reveal that they have remained really active over the years.

Today, the Black Arts Movement continues to have an important presence in the larger discourse on American and African American literature. The significance of jazz, militancy, and black historical figures such as Malcolm and Coltrane in poetry and the notion of poets as performers all have notable links to black arts era  poetry.  

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

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