*(Los Angeles, CA) – Often referred to as the “ founding father of the Black Arts Movement,” Amiri Baraka is as committed now as ever.
And, as a result of his consistent life-long commitment and dedication to documenting the African American experience in the United States, Mr. Baraka will be the featured artist during the 6th Annual Leimert Park Village Book Fair, “Tribute to the Black Arts Movement” beginning at 10 a.m., Saturday, June 30, 2012 on the Vision Theatre parking lot at Degnan Blvd. and 43rd Street, Los Angeles.
Considered one of the most important times in African American literature and art, the Black Arts Movement (BAM) reflected the intensity of the Black Liberation Movement, which started after the February 21, 1965 murder of Malcolm X and went through the mid 1970s, according to Mr. 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, Mr. 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, Mr. Baraka founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BARTS) with like-minded artists including Larry Neal and Askia Toure’ among others.
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,” Mr. Baraka commented. Another of his influential poems, “Black Art,” confirmed Malcolm X’s philosophy with language “we want poems that kill,” in a time that also boasted slogans like “Arm yourself or harm yourself,” and a favorite from the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, “Off the pigs.”
In fact, he credits one of his 1967 poems, “Black People,” for causing the “first time I got in trouble.” Mr. 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” issue 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,” he offered. “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 that we knew and that Afro-Americans had gotten to this country through terrorism.”
After reading the poem at a local festival, Mr. Baraka was stripped of his recent honor as New Jersey’s Poet Laureate and the $10,000 stipend that went with it. He continues as Poet Laureate of the Newark Public Schools.
In between, Mr. 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 as Professor of Africana Studies at the State University of New York. His latest offering, “RAZOR: Revolutionary Art for Cultural Revolution,” recently was published by Third World Press in Chicago.
“As a poet and political activist, I thought it silly to exclude my politics from my poetry,” Mr. 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.”
“Know that what you say is going to come back at you,” he added. “It’s like being a soldier.”
Mr. 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 Fest’s Ayuko Babu and renowned poet Sonia Sanchez at 1 p.m., and perform poetry on the main stage in a special tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks at 3 p.m.
“We couldn’t be more excited about Mr. Baraka’s participation,” exclaimed LPVBF founder, Cynthia Exum. “His confirmation to participate adds significantly to our already stellar line up.”
About Leimert Park Village Book Fair
LPVBF is a non-profit 501 © (3) organization whose mission is to promote, encourage and advocate literacy, education and the love of reading throughout the Greater Los Angeles area.
LPVBF is produced by Exum and Associates in partnership with LA. City 8th District Councilmember Bernard C. Parks. Bernard and Shirley Kinsey are co-chairs. The LPVBF also is supported by public partners Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, 2nd District; the City of Los Angeles; the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs; the Bernard and Shirley Kinsey Foundation; Community Build, Inc.; and the Leimert Park Village Merchant’s Association. Sponsors include Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, Capri Capital Partners, Nestle U.S.A., Inc., Sempra Energy, KPFK 90.7 FM radio, Xerox, Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business an Management, Time Warner Cable, KABC-TV Channel 7, and United Parcel Service (UPS).