Often referred to as the “founding father of the Black Arts Movement,” Amiri Baraka is as committed now as ever to documenting the African American experience in the United States.
Baraka will be the featured artist during the sixth annual Leimert Park Village Book Fair, “Tribute to the Black Arts Movement,” beginning at 10 a.m., Saturday, June 30, in the Vision Theatre parking lot at Degnan Boulevard and 43rd Street, in the heart of Leimert Park.
The Black Arts Movement (BAM), considered one of the most important times in African American literature and art, reflected the intensity of the Black Liberation Movement, which started after the Feb. 21, 1965, murder of Malcolm X and continued through the mid 1970s, according to Baraka.
“After Malcolm X was assassinated, we came to believe there really was a war against Black people and not just the work of some disconnected racist White folk,” he explained. Malcolm’s assassination “drove us from Greenwich Village to Harlem.”
Already established as an influential poet, writer, activist, Baraka had significant work published in the early 1960s, including his first volume of poetry, “Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note” in 1961; his seminal work on Afro-American music and culture, “Blues People: Negro Music in White America” in 1963 and, his Obie- Award winning play, “Dutchman” in 1964.
In 1965 Harlem, Baraka founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BARTS) with like-minded artists, including Larry Neal and Askia Toure’.
For the better part of a year they sent five trucks a day into the Harlem community promoting art shows, poetry readings, music, graphic illustrations and drama on vacant lots, playgrounds and in housing projects.
The Black Arts Movement was inspired by what Malcolm X talked about,” Baraka commented.
In fact, Baraka credits one of his 1967 poems, “Black People,” for causing the “first time I got in trouble.” Baraka says he was arrested and sentenced for “possession of two guns and a poem.”
That poem, considered more lethal than the guns, netted him a three-year sentence, which was overturned after he spent less than a week in jail.
The “second” source of trouble surrounded his penning “Somebody Blew Up America,” after the bombing of the New York World Trade Center in 2001.
“I could see the World Trade Center from the third floor of my house in Newark, New Jersey,” Baraka said. “We were particularly frightened by (then) President Bush’s statement that terrorists had blown up the World Trade Center because they hated us and our democracy. All I could think of was that the (Ku Klux) Klan was the terrorism we knew and that Afro-Americans had gotten to this country through terrorism.”
After reading the poem at September 2002 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, Baraka was stripped of his 2002 honor as New Jersey’s Poet Laureate and the $10,000 stipend that went with it. His ouster from the state, prompted a move to make him Poet Laureate of the Newark Public Schools that same year.
In addition, Baraka has served with National Black Assembly; Black Radical Congress; The Congress of Afrikan People; created numerous artistic expression spaces with his wife, Amina; and worked as a professor of Africana Studies at the State University of New York.
His latest literary offering, “RAZOR: Revolutionary Art for Cultural Revolution,” was recently published by Third World Press in Chicago.
“As a poet and political activist, I thought it silly to exclude my politics from my poetry,” Baraka explains. “If you choose to tell the truth, you have to accept what goes with it. Then, you have to carry it on.”
For aspiring artists he advises, “Know that you’re not going to be rich and that you’re going to be attacked for telling the truth, especially if it’s against corruption.”
Baraka will open the Leimert Park Village Book Fair (LPVBF) on the main stage at 10 a.m., participate in a panel on the Black Arts Movement with Pan African Film Festival’s Ayuko Babu and renowned poet Sonia Sanchez at 1 p.m. He will perform poetry on the main stage in a special tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks at 3 p.m.
For additional information about the book festival, go to the website www.leimertpartbookfair.com.