The spoken and written word, along with the music and dance of black folks, form a magical triangle reflecting sunlight into the lives of a much maligned people. Our literature serves to renew minds too often starved of self-knowledge. I hope to make a contribution to this effort with BIBR by reviewing and writing about the poetry that honors us.
I became a poet and essayist primarily because I was introduced to black literature at the impressionable age of fourteen. I was instructed by my mother to go to the Detroit Public Library to check out a copy of Richard Wright's Black Boy. At first I refused to go. I was ashamed of being black and did not know that black people had produced a grand and substantial body of literature. I was taught in the 1950s that all writing and publishing was the work of white folks, mainly white men. It never entered my young mind that we also had black poets and writers whose work could, without question, stand next to work by writers of all cultures.
In my short tenure on this earth it has become abundantly clear to me that the language of black poets has informed our lives immeasurably. They have contributed greatly to our being a more knowledgeable, loving, empowered, sensitive, complex and creative people.
The work of black poets informs, entertains, motivates and places us on a map of language. Poets make clear the existence of human-made landmines developed to destroy racial and cultural consciousness. Literature is taught the world over because it places people in complicated psychological and historical contexts and gives us insight into the human condition, supplying us with the cultural food necessary for maturation.
For black people to be taught the literature of only white culture is cultural imperialism of the highest order. The word African, in African American, denotes an existence and experiences prior to our forced migration to the Americas. Most people did not walk on water, paddle rowboats or fly first class to get here. An understanding of the unique, and often bitter, history of African/European relations is fundamental in comprehending, as well as creating, one's place in the universe today. It was Gwendolyn Brooks, in her own haunting way, who gave us the poetic prescription for change. She wrote, "Say that the river turns and turn the river."
To honor the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks is to keep alive and acknowledge the cultural tradition of a great people. To read the work of John A. Williams, John O. Killens, Alice Walker, Bessie Head, Mari Evans, Paule Marshall, Amiri Baraka, Wole Soyinka, Sonia Sanchez and August Wilson is the best medicine to strengthen a weak cultural immune system. To dance with the language of June Jordan, Ishmael Reed, Jayne Cortez, Quincey Troupe or Wanda Coleman is to experience word music infused with the cultural notes of a complex and beautiful people. Without their contributions, our lives would be less than they are. It is these writers, and countless others, established and emerging, who open analytical doors and secret passages to our literature and allow us to walk a little straighter, with a dance in our step.
Haki R. Madhubuti, founder and publisher of Third World Press, is a poet, professor and Founding Director Emeritus of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center at Chicago State University. His latest book is Tough Notes: Letters to Young Black Men (September 2000).
Wet your poetic appetite with these titles:
Images in a Shaded Light by C. D. Grant Blind Beggar Press, Inc., January 1986, $6.00, ISBN 0-940-73808-2
Pages of My Mind: Cool, Calm, Collected by Dana Hawes Syntax Publishing, February 2000, $19.95, ISBN 0-966-04474-6
Thoughts of an Everyday Woman: An Unfinished Urban Folktale by Brenda Connor-Bey Blind Beggar Press, Inc., December 1995, $19.90, ISBN 0-940-73816-3
Poetry for the Spirit: Poem Meditations by Toyin Olakanpo TKD Books, November 1995, $10.00, ISBN 0-967-31266-3
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|Author:||Madhubuti, Haki R.|
|Publication:||Black Issues Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2000|
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