Imamu Amiri Baraka first came to the attention of readers and critics in the late 1950's and early '60's under the name LeRoi Jones. At the outset of his career he published his poetry in various avant-garde literary journals, several of which he edited or co-edited, and was generally considered one of the more promising minor figures of the "Beat" movement. In his earliest works Baraka evinced not only the thematic concerns of Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs, but also the technical influences of such different poets as Yeats and Olson.
Almost from the beginning Baraka won the respect of serious critics, as in manifested in the favorable reviews of his first volume of poetry, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note ( 1961), and the acclaim accorded his early plays, Dutchman ( 1964) in particular. Denise Levertov review of Preface is exemplary. In praise of the "sensuous and incantatory" beauty of the poems, Levertov says: ". . .in this first book, where the poems are arranged chronologically, one can see even as the chaff flies that the grain is good. His special gift is an emotive music that might have made him a 'lyric' poet, but his deeply felt preoccupation with more than personal issues enlarges the scope of his poems beyond what the term is often taken to mean." 1
However, mainstream concern with Baraka as literary artist very nearly ceased in the latter half of the decade. Because of his growing militancy and increasingly energetic participation in the socio-political realm, Baraka's literary output, reflecting his new posture, was largely ignored. When treated at all, he was discussed as a revolutionary black nationalist peripherally concerned with "art." The following comment, taken from a review of Home: Social Essays ( 1966) is representative of the treatment given the latter works of Baraka. The reviewer says: "LeRoi Jones is still a young man, but it is now necessary to inter him as a writer, young and kicking. In his collection of essays from