Louder Than a Bomb: On Amiri Baraka and the Black Arts Movement

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By Michael Gonzales

Yesterday afternoon, writer Amiri Baraka died at the age of 79. This past summer, while attending an uptown party for my friend Florence Tate at Graham Court, I had the pleasure of meeting him in person for the first time. Over the years, we’d been in the same room together, and I even interviewed him (thank you Fayemi Shakur) when I wrote about Nina Simone for Wax Poetics. As a music critic, at least most of the time, I’d devoured not just Baraka’s classic Blues People (1963), but also his plays, poems and sometimes wild ramblings.

When my editor Miles at Ebony.com first proposed that I write about the Black Arts Movement, I thought about those long ago days when I was a messenger in 1982 and found a copy of the collection Black Fire, which Baraka edited with poet/critic Larry Neal. While I had spent my youth reading Marvel comics and Harlan Ellison/Kurt Vonnegut paperbacks, at nineteen I was rediscovering my Blackness through music and books. Discovering Black Fire at some used book store, this tome included the works of Ed Bullins, Stanley Crouch and Sonia Sanchez. Without a doubt, the writings in Black Fire put me on a completely different path of literary communication.

Theirs was writing that wasn’t afraid to scream or explode like textual time bombs. Absorbed by the funk and by the fury of the contributors, I carried that thick-ass book around for months. When I put out the call yesterday to my writer friends that I was penning a piece on the Black Arts Movement, my buddy Robert Fleming sent me a passionate statement that expressed how many of us felt about the elders that paved the way for us to do our thang.