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Somethin' Proper: The Life and Times of a North American African Poet.

Marvin X (Marvin E. Jackmon) [El Muhajir]. Somethin' Proper: The Life and Times of a North American African Poet. Castro Valley, CA: Black Bird P, 1998. 278 pp. $29.95.

Marvin X's autobiography Somethin' Proper is one of the most significant works to come out of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. It tells the story of perhaps the most important African American Muslim poet to appear in the United States during the Civil Rights era. The book opens with an introduction by scholar Nathan Hare, a key figure in the Black Studies Movement of the period. Marvin X then takes center stage with an exploration of his life's story, juxtaposed with the rapidly changing events and movements of contemporary history: the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Arts Movement, the Black Power Movement, the growth of Islam in America, and especially the influence of Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam, and the series of challenges facing black people in recent decades.

Marvin X was born Marvin E. Jackmon in Fowler, California, on May 29, 1944, and grew up in West Fresno and West Oakland, California. His early education was completed in these cities, and he later attended Oakland City College (Merritt) and San Francisco State University, where he was awarded a B.A. and an M.A. in English. He emerged as an important new poetic voice among California black poets in the late 1960s, and wrote for several of the key Black Arts Movement journals of the period, including the Journal of Black Poetry, Soulbook, Black Dialogue, Black Theatre magazine, Black Scholar, Black World, and Muhammad Speaks. He was also a key playwright of the era, working with Ed Bullins in organizing the Black Arts West Theatre in San Francisco and in founding the Black House, also in San Francisco, with Bullins, Eldridge Cleaver, and Ethna Wyatt. He also worked with Bullins at the New Lafayette Theatre in Harlem. During the last forty years, Marvin X has taught Black Studies, literature, drama, and English at Fresno State University, the University of California, Berkeley and San Diego, the University of Nevada, Reno, San Francisco State University, Mills College, and Merritt and Laney Colleges in Oakland, California.

His very active career is also reflected in a rapid-moving life style. This fact is documented by the author in twenty chapters in Somethin' Proper, followed by an appendix, which captures the life and death of Huey Newton. Marvin X was a busy man during the 1960s and 1970s. He was a Black Muslim, an associate of the key leaders of the Black Panther Party (Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver), an anti-Vietnam War protester (he went into exile in Canada, and later in Central America, rather than be drafted into the United States Army), and an outspoken critic of American economic, social, and cultural discrimination of African Americans at home, and of Third World peoples abroad. This theme is reflected in one of his most famous poems of the period, "Burn, Baby Burn":

Tired, sick and tired.

Tired of being sick and tired.

Lost, lost in

The wilderness of white America.

Are the masses asses?

Cool, said the master

To the slave, "No problem,

Don't rob and steal, I'll

Be your driving wheel."

Cool.

And he wheeled us into

350 years of Black

Madness--to hog guts,

Conked hair, quo vadis

Bleaching cream,

Uncle Thomas, to Watts

To the streets, to the

Killllllllll ........

Boommmmm ............

2 honkeys gone.

Motherfuck the police

And Parker's sister too

Burn, baby, burn*******

Cook outta sight*******

Fineburgs, wineburgs,

Safeway, noway, burn .....

Baby, burn

Somethin' Proper also reveals Marvin X's family life, marriages, children, and friends, and notes the conflicts which he has experienced across the years with individuals, organizations, and governments. He writes in a style which captures the essence of black language, folklore, and culture in the United States, with an upscale urban beat! Marvin X notes the high and low points in his own life and that of his associates. Most potent is his analysis of the drug situation in this country, and its relationship to and impact upon the black struggle. He calls for change and reform in this area, stressing the need for continued black struggle to overcome the age-old problems of discrimination, racism, and oppression in America.

Marvin X remains an active writer today. His body of work includes Fly to Allay (1969); Black Man Listen (1969), a key work in Dudley Randall's catalogue at Broadside Press; Woman (1973); and a play, One Day in the Life, most recently produced in 1997 in Brooklyn and Newark, New Jersey. His most recent books of poetry are Love and War (1995), After Difficulty, and Ease (1998). He remains a very interesting voice from the Black Arts Movement, continuing to write and to challenge contemporary readers to think and to act, and to assess the past, the present, and the future.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Thompson, Julius E.
Publication:African American Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2001
Words:816
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