New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement

By Lisa Gail Collins; Margo Natalie Crawford | Go to book overview

17
Black Arts to Def Jam
Performing Black "Spirit
Work" across Generations

Lorrie Smith

The Arts Are Black (and coming back!)

—Charlie Braxton

An emblematic moment in the emergence of the Black Arts Movement occurred at a writers' conference at Fisk University in 1967 when Gwendolyn Brooks—up to that point a genteel integrationist anointed by the Pulitzer Prize-awarding literary establishment—had a conversion experience that gave birth to "new consciousness." The catalyst for her transformation from "Negro" to "Black" poet, as she describes it in her 1972 autobiography, Report from Part One, was the charismatic performance of revolutionary young poets like Amiri Baraka, Hoyt Fuller, and Ron Milner. The fruitful response to this awakening—Brooks' rebirth into "surprised queenhood in the new black sun," her switch from Harper and Row to Dudley Randall's Broadside Press, her transition from formalism to free verse and the idioms of black consciousness, and her mentoring of young poets, including The Blackstone Rangers and Don L. Lee/Haki Madhubuti, in Chicago's OBAC (Organization of Black American Culture) workshops—are now engraved in the history of the Black Arts Movement.1 Other poets of Brooks' generation, including Margaret Walker, Margaret Danner, Dudley Randall, and Samuel Allen, while perhaps equally disoriented and surprised by the Black Arts explosion at first, would also forge alliances with radical young poets. Whatever tensions and anxieties of influence might have existed between older and younger African American poets who subscribed to the principles of a black aesthetic were obscured by the imperatives of racial unity. If some young Black Arts writers sometimes polemically renounced all earlier African American writing as not authentically or sufficiently

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