Imamu Amiri Baraka

An exhibition from the Collections of
The John Hay Library
Brown University

March - April 2000

Catalog of the Exhibtion
Checklist of works by Imamu Amiri Baraka
in the collections of
Brown University Library

The Beat Period:
1957 - 1962
Transitional Period:
1963 - 1965
Black Nationalist Period:
1965 - 1974
Third World Marxist
Period: 1974 -
Bibliography and Criticism Media


"Poet, dramatist, essayist, and critic, Amiri Baraka (formerly Le Roi Jones) is a major contemporary author. As both theorist and practitioner he was the central figure. . . of the 1960s' Black Arts Movement, a literary movement dedicated to racially focused art. . . In addition to being a prime influence on other poets and dramatists of his time, Baraka has also created an original body of work that belongs in the forefront of innovative avant-garde writing, regardless of ethnic background."

³Yet Baraka is not only a major author, but he is also an exceedingly controversial one. He is one of those mavericks, who, like Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer, have produced large bodies of work that are extremely critical of American Civilization. . . in fact, Baraka may be the most difficult American author to evaluate dispassionately since the modernist poet Ezra Pound, another writer whose work still evokes volatile critical response."

Baraka's career has been divided, by his editor William J. Harris, into four periods, and that organization has guided this exhibition. During his Beat Period, (1957 - 1962), Baraka "lived in New York's Greenwich Village and Lower East Side, where he published important little magazines such as Yugen and Floating Bear, and socialized with such bohemian figures as Ginsberg, Frank O'Hara and Gilbert Sorrentino. He was greatly influenced by the white avant-garde: Charles Olson, O'Hara, and Ginsberg in particular, shaped his conception of a poem as being exploratory and open in form."

Baraka's Transitional Period (1963 - 1965), is signalled by The Dead Lecturer, Baraka's second book of poetry. [It] is the work of a black man who wants to leave white music and the white world behind. It is a book written in a period that marked a time of changing allegiances, from bohemian to black. . . In 1965, following the assassination of black Muslim leader Malcolm X, Baraka left Greenwich Village and the bohemian world and moved uptown to Harlem and a new life as a cultural nationalist." During Baraka's Black Nationalist Period (1965 - 1974), "he established the Black Arts Repertory Theater School in Harlem, an influential model that inspired black theaters throughout the country. In 1967, he published his black nationalist collection of poetry, Black Magic, which traces his painful exit from the white world and his entry into blackness."

"In 1974, dramatically reversing himself, Baraka rejected black nationalism as racist and became a Third World Socialist." During this Third World Marxist Period (1974 - ), "he has produced a number of Marxist poetry collections and plays. . . The goal of his socialist art is the destruction of the capitalist state and the creation of a socialist community. . . His socialist art is addressed to the black community, which has, he believes, the greatest revolutionary potential in America."

"Baraka has created a major body of art, not by trying to blend into the Western tradition, but by trying to be true to himself and to his culture. He speaks out of a web of personal and communal experience, minimizing the so-called universal features he shared with the white world and focusing instead on the black cultural difference - what has made the black experience unique in the West. From this experience Baraka fashions his art, his style, and his distinctive vision of the world."

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This text has been excerpted from William J. Harris' Introduction to The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1991. Copyright William J. Harris; used by permission of the author.


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Last updated: March 22, 2000 10,851