Honoring Amiri Baraka 1934-2014

Program #BARA008-BARA007.

First program: Real Politics, Real Poetry

The role of creative people in society has long been debated. Should they focus on their art and stay away from politics? Poets, writers, painters, filmmakers, musicians, artists in general occupy a unique position. Their impact and influence extend far and wide. They illuminate realities in imaginative ways that expand awareness and understanding. Think of Dylan’s “Masters of War” or Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” or Picasso’s “Guernica” or Langston Hughes’ poem “Columbia,” where he exposes the depredations of U.S. imperialism. He writes:

“In military uniforms, you’ve taken the sweet life

Of all the little brown fellows

In loincloths and cotton trousers.

When they’ve resisted,

You’ve yelled, “Rape,”

Being one of the world’s big vampires,

Why don’t you come on out and say so

Like Japan, and England, and France,

And all the other nymphomaniacs of power."

 

Second program: Resistance and the Arts

From Allen Ginsberg to Kurt Vonnegut and from Bob Dylan to Michael Franti artists have been on the cutting edge. The arts play a pivotal role in society. The great historian Howard Zinn said: "Whenever I become discouraged I lift my spirits by remembering: The artists are on our side! I mean those poets and painters, singers and musicians, novelists and playwrights who speak to the world in a way that is impervious to assault because they wage the battle for justice in a sphere which is unreachable by the dullness of ordinary political discourse. The billionaire mandarins of our culture can show us the horrors of war on a movie screen and pretend they are making an important statement. But the artists go beyond that, to resistance."

Speaker(s):

Amiri Baraka (click to view archive)

Amiri Baraka was a cultural icon and an iconoclast. He rose to fame in the 1960s as LeRoi Jones. His 1964 off-Broadway play, Dutchman created a sensation. Later he became Amiri Baraka and was a central figure in the Black Arts movement. He was an award-winning playwright and poet and recipient of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was the author of many books including the classic Blues People. He was brilliant as a homeless sage in the movie Bulworth. His politics were uncompromisingly radical. Through his work he explored the parameters of African-American culture, history, memory, racism, class struggle and political power relationships.  As an orator he had a distinct and urgent style.  He had a special affinity for jazz and such titans as John Coltrane, Max Roach, and Thelonious Monk. He once said of himself, I’m a revolutionary optimist. I believe that the good guys—the people—are going to win.” He died on January 9, 2014. Thousands turned out in his hometown of Newark to mourn his passing and celebrate his life.

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