The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s

The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s

The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s

The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s

Synopsis

Emerging from a matrix of Old Left, black nationalist, and bohemian ideologies and institutions, African American artists and intellectuals in the 1960s coalesced to form the Black Arts Movement, the cultural wing of the Black Power Movement. In this comprehensive analysis, James Smethurst examines the formation of the Black Arts Movement and demonstrates how it deeply influenced the production and reception of literature and art in the United States through its negotiations of the ideological climate of the Cold War, decolonization, and the civil rights movement.

Taking a regional approach, Smethurst examines variations in the character of the local expressions of the nascent Black Arts Movement, a movement distinctive in its geographical reach and diversity, while always keeping the frame of the larger movement in view. The Black Arts Movement, he argues, fundamentally changed American attitudes about the relationship between popular culture and "high" art and dramatically transformed the landscape of public funding for the arts.

Excerpt

In earlier drafts of this introduction, I began by suggesting that African American studies, Chicana/o studies, Asian American studies, and other fields broadly constituting the somewhat nebulous universe of ethnic studies were haunted by the ethnic or racial nationalisms that in their various manifestations flourished in the United States from about 1965 to 1975. I based this observation on the fact that, even though relatively little scholarly work had been done on the Black Power movement and other political nationalist movements and even less on the Black Arts movement and its Chicana/o, Asian American, and Puerto Rican analogues, the departments, degree-granting committees, research centers, institutes, and so on of the above listed fields owed their inception in large part to the institutional and ideological spaces carved out by the Black Power, Chicano, Asian American, and other nationalist movements. Indeed, many of these departments, programs, and committees (and publishers, book imprints, academic book series, art galleries, video and film production companies, and theaters) were the direct products of 1960s and 1970s nationalism. As I began to write, a number of the institutions of ethnic studies, often under the rubric of "Africana studies," still presented themselves as nationalist or Afrocentric, say, Temple University's Africana Studies Department, preserving a relatively untroubled sense of connection to earlier nationalist institutions and ideologies. Others, including my own W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, displayed a general stance toward the Black Arts and Black Power movements that might be described as critical support. However, many of the most high-profile institutions and schol-

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