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The Black Scholar

Journal of Black Studies and Research

ISSN: 0006-4246 (Print) 2162-5387 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rtbs20

The Social Background of the Black Arts Movement

Larry Neal

To cite this article: Larry Neal (1987) The Social Background of the Black Arts Movement, The
Black Scholar, 18:1, 11-22, DOI: 10.1080/00064246.1987.11412735

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00064246.1987.11412735

Published online: 14 Apr 2015.

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He died in 1981. arose was. saying. LARRY NEAL was a poet and a drama and Spellman and LeRoi Jones. It dealt not only with what was going Joyce and people like that. what was the role of literature? Cuba's been invaded. This about. I didn't even know we fit into all of this? Those were some of what the Bay of Pigs was. I often dug into that I worked at a communist bookstore when I collection as a student. too. as you know. but also understand what existentialism was all with Afro-Americans in this context. the Civil Rights world. James trated. THE BLACK SCHOLAR JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1987 PAGE 11 . out of Paris. was really a revelation. It was brightly illus- literary. literature. phia. But it really was more was really polished. This Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing (1968). This was. "Cuba's been invaded. They didn't teach was in graduate school. So gradu- ally I began to start thinking about politics there were stirrings and political activitv more. I didn't know much the things that were going on in Philadel- about Cuba. It was all around." And he started talk. His other works included Black Boogaloo (Notes on was probably 1962-63. I was trying to on in Africa and the third world. It was called I had a side interest in folklore and an Revolution: Africa. People were begin- In 1961. THE SOCIAL BACKGROUND OF THE BLACK ARTS MOVEMENT by larry Neal I came to New York City just before the Harlem riot. Eliot. There were articles on music by A. I was in the Lincoln University ning to take sides and trying to discuss issues library when a student came running into about various things. What was the role of the writer? How did ing about the Bay of Pigs. At the time. a quarterly arrived American literature and English literature. It interest in politics. Lincoln University.S. I was reading T. Movement was going on. that I had never seen before. trying to put politics into some kind going on both in America and in the third of context. They taught the standard courses of One day in the store. With Amiri Baraka. he edited Black know who LeRoi Jones was at that time. but it had offices in New York.B. this was a time when Y talking about the Bay of Pigs. sity. here was this guy coming up to me between riots. I read Marxist Afro-American literature at Lincoln Univer. a highly political time. Asia and Latin America. One of the issues that the library. so I was POLITICS AND LITERATURE et. What was important for me at the time Then some people in the Philadelphia was a large Afro-American collection at region moved towards a leftist orientation. It was quite impressive. the Philadelphia riot occurred. While I was in New York City. This magazine came Black Liberation) and Hoodoo Hollerin' Rrbop Ghosts. I didn't even literary critic.

but I never got an answer. he"re was what seemed to be a definitive statement. We began to do things run the thing down. something that reached for the grand statement about Afro-American cul- MUNTU ture. also came cover. It tried to get at was published. and Jamie Stuart. discussing concepts of was going to work at a publishing house to rhythm. in American literature. anyway? Blues People was the first of motion and rhythm. and then and Richard Wright's blues kind of got at Nomo. a certain point involved in struggle. I sent it hat we saw in Muntu essentially was an to William Morrow and Sons where the book W exploration of African culture. Before Ellison's works Blues Something or another. PAGE 12 THE BLACK SCHOLAR JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1987 . and something about the dynamics guy. here suddenly was at the world as young black people and this very exciting magazine with articles on saying. or nco-African culture. the inside of the African culture using Bantu Subsequent to that. We felt a certain uddenly I was moving from reading distance between us and that strictly literary S Arthurian romance. or the red lues People. something like writer about the blues. an enclosed literary context. The nationalists used to speak at had been talking about these things in the 125th Street and 7th Avenue. tendencies. Everybody was really ex- cited. of Af- rican philosophical values. who was legendary. I don't know if it was nco-African culture that LEROIJONES attracted us." Right away bells started going off because So Muntu and the other books opened up there were people thinking the same things. the play. Muntu opened up the in Philadelphia in an organization that I question of how poetry readings and drama belonged to with Charles Fuller. That is to say. Then juxtaposed comprehensive book by an Afro-American against that another title. Press book. Avenue and hear all various nationalist We were coming out. So you could go to I 25th Street and 7th how it could become more dynamic. I met LeRoi in New York as I African culture. reaction to the kind of closely written poetry IDEOLOGICAL DISCUSSIONS of people like Allen Tate. by LeRoi Jones. M-u-n-t-u. who was in Black American terms. We were looking material in Revolution. can be dynamic. or something like that. let me just orality in poetry. so to speak. areas of inquiry that we were very interested We were having these ideological discussions in. terms that we felt would We were having these discussions about be our scale. "Where does that fit with reference both politics and art. I think that might have been a was Ed "Porkchop" Davis. able with working. philosophy as the construct for discussing in 1964. and dynamic in Afro- wright. And a large context of political struggle. but also black man and his destiny in the [Vietnam] about poetry itself and literature itself and war. all of these interesting African terms that. But when you Ripped through Afuntu. Muntu. We write. as you might recall." But blues. So I wrote LeRoi Jones a letter. And for some reason. For example. terms that we felt comfort- Fire. that is the role part of their discussion was the role of the of the artist in political struggle. you saw an interesting collage of things B out in 1963. You could look at this approach to working. because we see ourselves at relationship to each other. It's a Grove around Philadelphia. seemingly in interesting to where we are. Things like Kuntu. of the so-called beat One of the major speakers in this context generation. our methodologv. I don't know if he ever re- ceived that letter. Sterling Brown had earlier written this juxtaposed against something about the essay called "The Blues as Folk Poetry. to this material. after grad school. or the word Muntu. which some That led to all kinds of experiments with the of us had run into in 1963. concepts of the use of the word. Well. Who was LeRoi Jones? Who was this juxtaposed against one another.

So that meant that who could handle language very well. He left with other level. whole vocabulary was changing. words in our vocabulary like Muntu. we had to begin to put into focus the private voice that we brought to it. and they help to symbols you can go after. relevancy. I'm speaking about the speakers.'s. What I'm trying to do is get writers have seen them. And were in an era where the public voice seemed there was a lot of competition. you will see that environment.Just what do these names-Ghana. Malcolm X is in the tradition of Ed Davis.f. We had the same ideas in about Ronald Snelling and Ishmael Reed Philadelphia but they were not as intense. coming from North time was forcing us to be more public. and DuBois was there. that I had seen street speakers were very attractive. and they this much involvement and activity around set a certain kind of tone. what politicians come and go. and a few others doing their poetry on the street corners of Harlem. SOUTHERN AND STREET- One way of looking at it is when LeRoi CORNER ORATORY Jones moved from the private voice to the ou find yourselves in the linguistic era public voice by making an announcement. that is to say. a lot of people to be on the ascendancy. the view right now. Yoruba. The point is that the artist became more cated a lot of people politically. ment. m. ter. CHANGE IN LANGUAGE That was the kind of place Harlem was. Cuba. within this public aura. the urban street-corner speaker. So it's a real THE BLACK SCHOLAR JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1987 PAGE 13 . When he left the village downtown. address was the most useful. there is a sense in which there is in that Literature takes place in both the public literature polemic mode. There was a dash getting ready to happen. he didn't Y of. They edu. He did the right thing as a person who is engaged. This was the public in the context. Those of us who were urbanized Northern folks went it's like I'm leaving you. certain kind of poetry of the South and of He could have just left and clone his number the sermon tradition. PUBLIC ARTIST The poet began to listen to both of these types and to make decisions as to which one e left cussing out people-giving up a was speaking to him or her. Martin Luther King. I'm looking but it has a tradition of oratory that goes back for years. We were moving or the polemic mode that becomes an ele- to a place where the language was changing. After all. dialectical this. I mean it's not just a leave. It takes on a public charac- Harlem street corner speakers. Given at this phenomenon from a literary point of Harlem's particular kind of history. with his Southern background. he announced his leaving. this context. we were beginning to look at the question and other names we didn't know before. giving up old friends. on one level. I don't know of many communities like that. you do with polemic? How does it work? Marxism. All of the writer as activist and then at the of a sudden it became exciting just to hear question of the role of polemic. dialectical that. but he didn't do that. Then you have the uptown. your street-corner speakers- great fanfare. Here were So. which mode of H wife and whole range of things. Garvey did go through there. West Africa. and here we because that's the kind of time it was.That's a great doctoral dissertation-the announcement. the dynamics of the first time in my life. The Philadelphia to New York. Some of us just embraced the polemic stance superstructure. . creating a just leave. your Ed Davis and your Malcolm X. So suddenly the create the rhetoric. I think that when you are looking at and we were affected by the whole linguistic the literature of that period. And the reason is and private field of language. W hat was becoming clear was that the language was changing through this. so that we read these ideas. They've heard the at the feel of languages out there.

and I was beginning to write The other tendency was another literary in Liberator magazine. We were defending place that was also receptive to work of this ourselves. landscape such as jazz. Hombre was down. John Henry. group was essentially trying to move through the main currents of American avant-gar- dism. And this was a violence systematically. the toast and the dozens. and the reason We went downtown. though it was seen to be an older crowd. LeRoi Jones yeah. ern folk rhythms. There were all kinds of negative allusions to LeRoi's and Ishmael's works. and it was oriented lence. I think Archie lived in PAGE 14 THE BLACK SCHOLAR JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1987 ." is not in any copies of Hombre. but we were writing a lot about time. other periodicals I began to assume a great deal of impor- tance. was being there. That's where the people were. The Village had always been a place GROWTH OF BLACK PERIODICALS that was relaxing for Afro-Americans.for the Malcolm X style because it was is very important to make it clear that there related to things that you saw on the urban was in Manhattan. the church rhythms of the gospel. "Oh. I was in a group called the was in Freedomways. which was certainly not a nonviolent organi- Then there was a Liberator magazine that zation although we didn't commit any vio- was being published. that bombarded our senses. The downtown won. MEETING AT JONES' HOME I think there was a certain kind of tension and competition between Ishmael and LeRoi. Malcolm's oratory was extremely compel- ling. These kinds of DOWNTOWN NEW YORK things that happen in the exchange and challenge and ritual of growing up-the ptown was looked upon by the rites of passage. munity. between whether I was supposed to be in there was a lot of receptivity on the part of the the Village or whether I was supposed to be Freedomways people to the young writers. the lower east side. at least in the 1950s. There was down want to meet LeRoi Jones? I am going on the lower east side a definite Afro-Ameri. It T his was an interesting building he was living in because Archie Shepp lived in the same building.·ant. I think. Al." I said. Being hip. say within myself. "Do you town. Freedomways. for a long time. the struggle. As uptown with the black people. a matter of fact. That was an irrefutable. LeRoi was living at 27 why is that at that time. downtown to meet LeRoiJones. can clique. he was associated Cooper Square in the Village. Ironically enough. There was a ready home down nto this environment. vis-a-vis the black artist. Max Stanford said. whereas the urban rhythm is the urban blues and the root of that language is UPTOWNVS. that's pretty slick. but there was a tension about whether that was rele. the whole essentially these two communities-the kind of thing for us was the urban impulse. that sounds cool. It was very important in wasn't right. There was an inner logic to it that was U nationalist impulse as the place to be. It was a poem about Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM). We really didn't know how to commit toward Africa in many ways. there was an inner logic that some way to claim Harlem. downtown community and the uptown com- The folk rhythms of King are the South. So. tension within one person. with the white Bohemian writers in the Village rather than Ishmael Reed and other black writers. there would be this published. magazine called Hombre. and it was really important. One day. for example. my first poem published in Let me briefly describe for you the scene a legitimate magazine that you could go to downtown and how my meeting with LeRoi a newsstand or go into a bookstore and buy came about. E\·en though everything he said historical place.

really getting these various ideas connected with it. calling it "loft jazz" in Downbeat magazine. what was going on with his tween the music. The follow- ing week I had to go back down there to his music had a very definite. LeRoi Jones' be. it was nice. there was this community of people circling around Archie I guess. and he and LeRoi playing. It was before the Now it's back on the scene. than he things of 1964. LeRoi was more the Albert Ayler things and the Sun-Ra critically an anarchist. and for some weird reason we connected with the sound because. You see what I'm getting at-our was more white than black. it was But the other thing about 27 Cooper a total new intensity. Their friends were Allen Ginsberg. something about in a moment.B. he was in love with Albert Ayler's leaders of the downtown literary thing. Everyone kept painters. and LeRoi. Now. And 27 Cooper Square was thing. You have to find were just literary pals. And it was pretty cool.B. you conversation with Allen Ginsberg. Like Ralph Ellison's hey- life? Why was he here? What was the point day. if you want to get point in history. Hettie Cohen. At this particular of the solarity of the time. His lovely wife. an orthodox Marxist. packed with books and this great big upright But there was another thing going on in piano. music. it was sound and abstract. and it was sound was the Albert Ayler and the late John creating for him a certain amount of tension. It's taken over production of "The Slave.the second floor apartment. The intensity of the sound. They were came a place to stop when you were down. I think the guy's the parties you met all of the writers who name was Mosette. as he is now. the musicians coming in to hear saying this new thing-all the musicians this new music. Spellman to LeRoi and everybody. a Bohemian. It was ways. LeRoi's place was a loft in many of the mouths of the Miles Davis unit. one of the places along the way where a lot THE BLACK SCHOLAR JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1987 PAGE 15 . obviously Charlie Parker and those of the whole Bohemian downtown thing? It guys. What LeRoi was really trying to get at American culture very often is announced and identified through various shifts be- was. or. we had been were trying to get the thing together-the hearing about this music. Coltrane. getting to the power of it. So. was a nationalist. if you want to get a sense and that group of people. but it was John Coltrane out the little one. certain kind of attitude and meaning. of music and the struggle. Well. Powerful music. the ambience. though. LOFT JAZZ The meeting was interesting. Afro- ! tension even then in terms of the social life. and at of the lofts in the building. holding forth listening Revolution magazine from A. It's pretty hard to describe this music. It was formalistically rev- 27 COOPER SQUARE olutionary. They have to listen to this music. and Archie and LeRoi were in constant conversation about the role T passionate sound. Ed Dorn I would advise you. began to notice. We laid on this sound a about the role of art in the struggle. and LeRoi lived I had been listening to John Coltrane in in the third floor apartment with Hettie and Philadelphia. LeRoi was still in friendly a sense of the Gestalt. was a the music that I had been reading about in very friendly person. LeRoi was deeply into Albert Ayler. sort of the black I mean. and Albert Ayler was there was A. piercing. It broke with all of the previous ways of improvisation. Archie Shepp's place. You could run into anybody kept walking around talking about the new in this context. you know. that there was a It is interesting that in America. We said it was out of the African mode and it was revolutionary." which I'll say part of New York. I hadn't heard it yet. Spellman. town. We and LeRoi. were like the leaders. This was 1964. Square was that there were concerts in one Everybody came to these parties. it was a downtown loft. The other person who used to come by They had this party. It was structured.

And he was published in neighborhoods. We had grown up in tough had his own press. LeRoi began to feel that it was necessary TENSION BETWEEN FACTIONS to set up this magazine called lnlfinmation. I think from the point of view of literary It wasn't like they were formal discussions. "My strategy is better than that one. They were strategists. I already explained the tensions going on earlier between the various factions. any of that. period after. When Martin Luther King got W Wretched of the Earth. radical literary and political ideas out. kind of thing. We were again were announcements and pronounce. LeRoi. M untu was from Grove Press. they were not talking to e were all influenced by Fanon's The themselves. had been published by Grove terms of your personality. history. PAGE 16 THE BLACK SCHOLARJANUARYIFEBRUARY 1987 . We thing. Press and all of a sudden I'm putting things together. And he way. Here was America. "Bam! Hit in the head with a sledge they were not talking to themselves. anyway.before. I LeRoi began to think about what kind of First. been interested in independence as an artist." gether finally that all of this stuff was coming he was saying. You know. The body knew that violence was wrong. this particular group of writers form he was going to take. a lot conduit for certain kinds of ideas. a lot of comraderie. This was a handbill that went on." ironically again. but it was e had seen a lot of violence. many ways-Walker Vessels. a lot of discussion. Something that was really consummg 111 of course. I JONES AS A REVOLUTIONARY think. the Fanon thing. None were talking to Afro-Americana and of us knew Fanon. We were ready for violence. The Fan on thing up to speak and Malcolm got up to speak. And here was the Fanon thing. we were basically Christian in our ment of his revolutionary stance.of ideas took shape. Grove Press." justification for violence that we didn't have which I reviewed in Liberator magazine. was like. that period begins LeRoi's public announce. We felt. he published his own magazine and were urban. saying. right after the plays that LeRoi But in Fanon we found the intellectual did called "The Slave" and "The Toilet. we should go and examine Grove's They were informal. of listening. You're partying and titles in reference to American literature. And that was. listening to music.When King said. He had always could never go for Martin Luther King. We knew that we could not liberate began to act like the character in the play in these people. non-violently. But in that it cool. "My strategy is better than out of Grove Press.I mean. that tilt pushed us right on over to our whole thing. he already had that. You GROVE PRESS have to remember. We just disagreed with that tendency. very central in putting certain kinds of There was something happening here.conditioned as young black urban people in ments about the role of the artist and what the North to deal with violence." We didn't know anything. There was no basis for the violence. so the concept of the kind of fortitude that it would take to being independent and having your own go anywhere and turn any other cheek. They were another book Fanon wrote. I began to put things to. but at the time it obviously member that there was a contention over assumed a certain kind of character as a which way to go. There was no way we had a lot of independents. They hammer. It's you're talking.'" You have to re- on Grove Press. "Turn the other cheek. had the habit of that. There was no way any of our particular Even when he was with the white Bohemian group could ever have gone for that. I hadn't even focused the guy who says 'fight. That was t was out of that kind of interaction that just it. We do not have W in many ways violent although we kept many copies floating around. And every- the artist was supposed to be about. We were one of those manifestos.

You can go back and look at these QUESTION OF DEFINITION landmarks and see whether or not in fact that was the case. he broke his heart. I wanted him to get away from point LeRoi read it in the construction of that stuff because I wanted to see an opening the play. there was another shift of vocabu- lary. We point. And the question of Islam. And. be anything. I am not quite sure at which I was glad. I the Fanon image. Max Stanford. So. At each point along the way these issues were forcing a shift in vocabulary. Whether it was right or wrong is not the matched our experience with Fanon's. in Fanon. I finally entered into poetry. wh . you were out of it. around a nationalistic. I called art "religion mean. the landscape opened up and strong. The question of what is good and the So. charismatic leader. If you were supposed to A gain. was very happy. the intellec- tual justification. wholistic vision. So. Then the following Fanon only existence we have is really through books became very important. I was glad because I was not into affecting language. wanted to see a more secular movement built ized grappling with the question of violence." No. We didn't annunciate being glad because you didn't say certain things at that time. Also. who could maybe become the spearhead of another aspect of the urban whom I had run into in the library that day. particularly grade school and Catholic High School. and we could Lenin or Mao Tse-tung or any number of look at it with a certain kind of almost people that would be so-called revolution. The break with the Nation through existence in a social realm without of Islam. Walker Vessels. struggle. I am trying to point out certain landmarks ence. something called a third world. THE BLACK SCHOLAR JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1987 PAGE 17 . A "Black" for example. The an essential text. I think we were glad. It was as if suddenly we had aries in the world. They There were aspects of the Fan on image in were saying. You are looking at a a place for all of that which seemed once picture of someone who looks like you. I saw them as narily in the West was a negative term. but you can see in Walker Vessels up and I wanted to see the broadening. here though. I understood what my friend. I was raised Catholic. but I didn't dig it. To of adding a positive meaning on what ordi. You are going I could not go with any religious ideology to be dealing with words and what they by that point in my life. language anyway. that you can go back and examine against the talk. to. black and intellectual. you know. basically neo-capitalists. Now tual justification for violence from a black we had come to a point where there was person that was articulate as opposed to say. But I LANDMARKS think we were glad. me they were reactionary. for example. So that you can't move OK. The literature picked it up and moved and wove right through. I was What meaning do we ascribe to it? A question very respectful of it. who despairing. the poetry essentially picked up I was very righteous. and if you are a literary person. "Oh. Fanon was a justification.1 Malcolm broke with the Nation of Islam. Because here was a uddenly. following. You were just out because you had not read terms were being changed gradually." or we could aspire had my Marxist vocabulary together. was saying about the Cuban invasion. So. Everyone else was sad. if you hadn't read the Fanon. But Fanon pulled it together for has a similar experience-at least we us. began to talk then about the colonial experi. was an intellec. secular nationalist who had a broad S things began to fall back into a certain kind of order. I the black intellectual who has been Western." I wasn't inside the Muslims. we could identify MALCOLM'S BREAK WITH with Fanon because we could identify with THE NATION OF ISLAM that kind of "intellectual. went to Catholic definition is always paramount. what is that? ideology. Malcolm. those of us in RAM and LeRoi and colonial context.

I and other people worked out the style that body remember them. David Henderson. a little bit theoretical. big sound. not civil rights. It was this perception of style. Ishmael Reed. Nationalist Pioneer Movement. It announced itself with great fanfare. was getting really strange. or the young black. in nationalists and the indigenous nationalist groups in Harlem-the Ed Davis group and terms of what things were being formed. It was the place to be. He could read. knows.S. It was war and that we should respond to a public. fortunately. it an invasion. was happening along with the "loft jazz." if you talk to Ishmael Reed today. The Black Arts Theater came up to Harlem the spring after Malcolm's assassina- POETRY READINGS tion. decided by those of us who would stay Eliot reading his poetry. central issue as liberation. urban nationalist David Henderson. I for some reason always BLACK ARTS THEATER tended to be a little bit of a hodge-podge. Sonia Sanchez. The Black Arts Theater opened the people. It especially a group called the African was in the poetry readings a lot that LeRoi. PAGE 18 THE BLACK SCHOLARJANUARYIFEBRUARY 1987 . Some of us did things intuitively. but he was there. And so I won't The poetry readings were all part of what talk about the assassination in detail. I think. That was the point at which it was can tradition. their leader. That is to say. Willy was the is no blood on my hands. I can say that I'm glad that was a South African poet who was I'm able to stand here and say that. They were certainly in the Afro-Ameri- moments. and that style." which describes the the readings that we were doing we were always trying to make sure that the form we were evolving was a form that could include parades. what was happen- ing now. would have been proud to have had blood Ishmael seemed to be conducting a big on my hands. But. terms of reading. I'm very happy to South African brother. his say that. society that would kill Malcolm X in kind. Everything else was big. just a rich variety of F revolutionary writer. we saw the Calvin Hernton. But as everybody he wasn't there. you know that I was there LeRoi. It was more in the around that we would open up full throttle. These were very exciting readings for me. In wrote a little descriptive piece in Liberator I magazine in 1965 called "Black Arts Comes to Harlem. at Malcolm's assassination. We saw it moving towards the human rights he might try to give you the impression that position of Malcolm X. Out of the Fanon situation. Lee (Haki prominent Harlem nationalist. They called Madhubuti). the style whose name I forget right now? He was a that influenced Don L. the social life. the Brethway came to be called the black poetry style in brothers and the man that died. So you see. in MALCOLM'S ASSASSINATION Harlem. that school. I know he was there. Malcolm's assassination was one of the heavy poets. this was when you got a chance to hear people like. big voice. They did not sound like T. symphony orchestra when he read. I think any Urban League were addressing themselves black poet of any significance read in those to what we considered to be the central issue. Although. a little bit intuitive. the community. The fanfare was a parade through Harlem he poetry readings became a standard led by Sun-Ra. some of us did certain things theoretically. readings. Does any. style of the Russians. The only quiet poet who could cut through Again. Downtown. and if you see in my piece in Rolling Sometimes he wanted to be separate from Stone on the 60s. The T part of the apparatus of these activities and this backgrounding. There around with us at the time. But there was many a time when I voice was intense. We didn't feel that the NAACP and the with a series of poetry readings. musician or artist." There were poetry readings in apartments and public poetry readings.

such as it may be. The quest for national liberation and We began to listen carefully to Smokey nationalism and identity made us focus on Robinson and the Miracles. It poets in the rhythm and blues. the poets all of a sudden began kind of gestalt. "Suppose James Brown read Fanon. How to address a people that do what he did. And this was the modality we were after." There was a ques- back to look at the 19th century nationalists. some ordinary working person could rhythm and the boogaloo. We used That question was. That was the other musical tendency that influ. How to we all envied him and wished that we could handle that. Brother?" So the read that as a revolutionary code that meant people were into James Brown." American culture and politics through cul- ture? That was one of the reasons that we got Black Studies. It was always. cultural context. And neath it. soul music. You knew black people should go into the streets and you had to get into James Brown. We had POETIC STYLE the total quality of Coltrane. Out for things that would be usable for national of that kind of stylistic element the questions liberation or for nationhood. James Brown had consciousness. The but it also forced the nationalists to look at songs were saying. it was a way to try and trap so we were looking at black national culture their energy. was also the name of a poem in Black Fire by It was a challenge there so there again was David Henderson. You the Vandellas. which if you were reading in Harlem. that was another ou see. In Black Forehead is a poem by David Hender. The big hero for the poets was James Brown. this orientation. RHYTHM AND BLUES If you noticed. the stylistic mode was coming from. We had politics. "Hey. It was son called "Keep on Pushing." because was a book called Black Boog A Loo because there would be that music reference under- that was a popular dance at the time. how to convey to black to have big arguments like that. It was like people the strength and the values of Afro- saying. to Martha and Afro-American history on one level. A very important song was went back to look at Garvey and you went "Dancing in the Street. Listening to it more." Some people "Where are the people. point was that was the challenge of the oral "Keep on Pushing" was another one. that influ- enced the language. try and get at their energy. The work began to reflect that. all of those taking these things from the Afro-American references to the things. brother. I'm starting with the modality first. of the black poetic style came up. there is the question James Brown was a magnificent poet. That's where that was the environment. And the air was that kind of air. were into all these rhythmic modes led to we would just take over America. happened later on when you got people talking about Black Studies. and of what to do with these things. sometimes regret that we did not evolve enced the language. I am not talking about what ut that power was one thing we liked in B there. We began to listen to the music of the POLITICS AND CULTURE rhythm and blues people. I am talking about the stylistic technique now. They were still talking political. THE BLACK SCHOLAR JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1987 PAGE 19 . the dancing in the streets. yeah. I did not use the ideological AND HISTORY reference. on the other hand. Also. Suppose that question. "Hey. If the poets could do that. being affected by a lot of things then. some- gestalt coming at you which was all up to the body. tion about these songs being in code. led to the Black Aesthetic. That's why there say. Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman. But the take over. And now you had the rhythm and blues Y to pull into their language references. right on. you see all that is in there. We all thought that I a very sophisticated nationhood party but. let's get out and do where the people were." You read that the mode of operating as artists that led to poem.

ders Redding. He would turn the lights see Black Arts writing in Negro Digest. I think he said. I guess. I really don't know where he is. I began because it was very clear that Parker and the tradition of John Coltrane we had been dealing with that and didn't was a highly musical performance. But Hoyt Fuller asked this Y useff began to read what he mem- orized-long. how can you get at the emotional thing with the poetry. that was fantastically unique and compelling. oral mode. you know. His poetry energy. He is in Chicago." a lot of the poets. He imposed on the poets another chal. I have responded to it. said there is no such thing as a Black Aesthetic and it was sort of a silly concept." talking about music like the jazz musicians did. Yuseff was sat down and wrote any theory of Black like one of those strange geniuses who comes Aesthetics but because it was Hoyt who on the scene and then just fades off. you don't a Black Aesthetic? Does there need to be see him anymore. So. the image and word and get it all. talking about Yuseff. So. ow. And Afro-American church experience and com. anyway. Saun- chorusing. in one compressed unit? Coming out of the A nd people began to hassle me about this Black Aesthetic. It was called. like a asked the question. and I had been thinking about these things He evolved a way of reading that was very and calling it all kinds of stuff." I mean. as in music. I think of the Black Aesthetic as a N formal concept instead of an intuitive Gwendolyn Brooks said "yes" in answer to the question. but in this ic. It was all a discussion about energy. Amos Moore is the other genius in the energy. I got this form letter. I could never have thought that context it had taken on a definite new way about it. Not because Hoyt anymore but who is in Black Fire. he's got a lot of does. of now linking it with the tradition of Charlie course. The challenge was. who is not writing concept to Hoyt Fuller. It was all a question of energy. DEBATE lenge. he would light some incense and he asked me. We were close to the instrumental way of making talking about "Muntu-Kunto. he down. He didn't say it that BLACK AESTHETIC way. Then. "Black Aesthet- music and poetry is not new. LeRoi's concept of the oral work and the There were interesting responses. with having YUSEFF ROCKMAN power. but he just pooh-poohed the idea. will not work on the page like Amos Moore's We would say. in this particular era of style and concept such as I just described. it sounded lucid at the time." Talking about Coltrane. He greatly influenced Hoyt. everybody was influenced by from a person well traveled and erudite as Yuseff Rockman. He evolved an oral delivery Well. I am the one they put this on but I am ing out of the tradition of street oratory. He had been to Paris and to Africa. huge sections of his work. "Is there comet that hits a peak and boom. entered a poet by the have to attribute the question of the formal name of Yuseff Rockman. Negro Digest and other people had to deal with these young writers and gradually began to his poetry readings. Yuseff did something that was to influence "Black Writers Speak on Various Issues. take the energy of the reading as far as he could go. Of course we knew that the concept of We never would have said. "Yeah. as I recall. "Should there be a Black PAGE 20 THE BLACK SCHOLAR JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1987 . so. Hoyt. We were INFLUENCE OF very concerned with energy. but not the one. the various writers around. I think we stylistic dynamics. There was a constant discussion about that. I think he may be in one?" And he sent out this query to all of Cleveland. know it. He would create an entire atmosphere for question and we gradually. It was a nice concept coming character. right. and for some reason I wrote one might get music back there and he would of the longest responses in the book. So it was just because.

So he had all of this work. Dumas knew that I wrote for Liberator MUSIC AS JUDGMENT and he wanted to find out what was happen- ing. "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" I said something about the Afro-American folklore experience and how we already had a tradition in that aesthetic. I don't book. He was working T hey complained and complained so much that they called the white cop over. "Well. this city. and the contest never took place. we would find it. It's sort of hanging Henry. in that music. somewhere. T o describe the story very quickly for those of you who do not know it. that it was not WILL THE CIRCLE necessary to create a Black Aesthetic. The cop said." And the guy said. Hank. I met Henry cides that he is going to go and listen to the music and find out what's happening. Dumas had sent to hear it. You can't come in here and LeRoi came into Black Fire sometime because it would be very dangerous for you later. having said some unknown way from some mountain folklore and what not and things like that. can't come in. "Well. Hank was. "What do THE BLACK SCHOLARJANUARYIFEBRUARY 1987 PAGE 21 . Her response published in Negro Digest/Black World called was not longer than that. I got the title Black Fire if you come into this particular place. I don't think is specified. We BE UNBROKEN? had one already. Dumas was very quiet. We took two of his pieces for cause it is a structure. "You Fire. So. I must say. This particular guy is also a musician and Dumas in Mr. You could just go see Sun-Ra and girlfriend and they go to a club somewhere get a bit of the occult and space science thing in a black community somewhere. we were working on the extensions. It means a structure. He felt like he was us. a white musicologist hears this discussion and de- T he other landmark for the literary people-at least for a lot of us-was the work of Henry Dumas. Michaud's Bookstore on 125th had done a dissertation about a very impor- Street. there was a lot of stuff in the interven. he had been around Sun-Ra in the comfortable with the musicians and around Village. Sun-Ra was a very important force. anyway. "Because of the Well. And that was and is supposed to have gotten this horn in coming out of my background. The aes. I think it is.Aesthetic?" because it is necessary and be. black people. But there was a piece he structure. I got shot about the music." So he took his white people. It stories and fiction. in his work. something like a the anthology. Like a lot of tant jazz musician. the city. We had started working on Black They go there and the brothers say. And the brothers said. it's about a musician named Probe. and we had been operating out of a Black Aesthetic all of our lives in various ways as Afro-Americans." The because I was reading a book of the same musician and his girlfriend said. but nobody knew who could be Chicago or New York. If we went to the folk culture for the concept of posed to be this mysterious musical force the aesthetic. He is sup- thetic was rooted in the folk culture. I want to go in and I want and all of that kind of stuff. I want to go He was like a spiritual father to a lot of hear the music. "Why?" title. I think about 1966." some stories to Liberator magazine for a short story contest. It could be any city. The cop came over and he saw the on the strange world of Afro-American white couple trying to get into this black club folklore mythology. believe any of that stuff they are saying ing period that would sidetrack us. He said. had done a lot of short in space. from Himalaya or an Aztec priest.I did separately. There is all of this discussion among the musicians about this HENRY DUMAS particular musician's power. and you began to see it to hear the music. I said I didn't think they were going to have the short story contest.

"Oh. and to define our- get ready to leave. overlooking their shoulder. and back white folks. as a judging All correspondence to the Black force. about the music. London WC1. CA 94609 music as a force of judgment. So now we had Oakland. D corner and both of the people are dead. from Thursday March 26th to Saturday March 28th 1987.O. The musicians walk over and say. musiC. 1987. We also had a place. not be intruded upon. The music begins to play and Dumas W I think the object was for black people to find out who they were without someone describes a trip within the soul of the horn. the brothers let them in to hear the e didn't want the white critics in there. some of us thought. a collecting.you want? You got to get off this street. And the music ends and they ashamedly on our own. What you see was a raveling. Black people He describes a whole tapestry of information had a feeling of always being on stage for about the horn." Scholar must be sent to: What is going on now is finally all of these ideas were beginning to extend into one The Black Scholar kind of ball. It was time. The accompanying International Book Fair Festival will be held in London from Tuesday March 24th to Sunday March 29th. Director 76 Stroud Green Road Finsbury Park London N4 3EN England Telephone numbers 01-272 4889 01-737 2268 01-579 4920 PAGE 22 THE BLACK SCHOLARJANUARYIFEBRUARY 1987 . everybody is cleaning up selves on our own terms without someone and ready to pack and they look over in the else intervening in the definition. symbolically. it's true- the idea of music as a judgment. a place where Mail sent to the street address will whites don't go-a psychic zone that should be returned by the post office. That explained it to a certain extent. to the two people who have come in. The 6th International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books will take place at the Camden Centre. ritually. P. who to be in certain contexts socially." BLACK SELF-DEFINITION Finally. Bidborough Street. Kings Cross. Box 2869 and unraveling. un- go to sleep. John 'la Rose.