Amiri Baraka Analysis

Discussion Topics

How would you describe the interaction between Lula and Clay in Dutchman? What does it suggest about the relationship between the black and white races?

Amiri Baraka considers violence as the ultimate means to bring about a black rebirth. How does violence function in Dutchman?

How is racism addressed and dealt with in Dutchman and “An Agony. As Now”?

What are the changes that the poet has experienced in “An Agony. As Now “? What is the significance of these changes?

What are the two selves presented in “An Agony. As Now”? Can they coexist? Why or why not?

Identify some of the avant-garde techniques that Baraka employs in “An Agony. As Now” and “Monk’s World.”

What is “jazzification”? Draw examples from “Monk’s World” to illustrate such elements in the poem.

What do you think Monk is “signifying” with the “black keys” in “Monk’s World”?

Other Literary Forms

ph_0111207621-Baraka.jpg Amiri Baraka. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Amiri Baraka has been a cultural activist and professional writer for more than four decades and in that time has produced a wide range of works, including plays, essays, stories, and poems. Best known for dramas produced in the 1960’s (The Baptism, pr. 1964; The Toilet, pr., pb. 1964), he has also written a novel (The System of Dante’s Hell, 1965), collections of poetry (Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, 1961), The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka (1984), and several books on black music (Blues People: Negro Music in White America, 1963; The Music: Reflections on Jazz and Blues, 1987).

Achievements

Amiri Baraka has won a number of awards and fellowships, particularly for his poetry and drama (such as the Playwright’s Award at North Carolina’s Black Drama Festival in 1997). His play Dutchman (pr., pb. 1964) won an Obie Award for Best American Off-Broadway Play, and the following year Jones was granted a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. In 1984 he received an American Book Award, and in 1989 he won a PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He has also founded or supported numerous journals (such as Yugen magazine), theater groups (like the Black Arts Repertory Theatre), and other cultural organizations, especially in the African American community, and he has edited several important books on black culture (such as Home: Social Essays, 1966). In 1989, Baraka was given the Langston Hughes Medal for outstanding contribution to literature. His work has been translated and published in a number of other languages and countries.

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Amiri Baraka is an exceptionally versatile literary figure, equally well known for his poetry, drama, and essays. In addition, he has written short stories, collected in Tales (1967), and an experimental novel, The System of Dante’s Hell (1965), which includes numerous poetic and dramatic passages. Baraka’s early volumes of poetry Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note (1961) and The Dead Lecturer (1964) derive from his period of involvement with the New York City avant-garde. Other volumes, such as Black Magic: Sabotage, Target Study, Black Art—Collected Poetry, 1961-1967 (1969) and It’s Nation Time (1970), reflect his intense involvement with Black Nationalist politics. Later volumes, such as Hard Facts (1975) and Reggae or Not! (1981), reflect his developing movement to a leftist political position and have generally failed to appeal to either his avant-garde or his Black Nationalist audience. Baraka’s critical and political prose has been collected in Home: Social Essays (1966), Raise Race Rays Raze: Essays Since 1965 (1971), Selected Plays and Prose (1979), and Daggers and Javelins: Essays (1984). The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka was published in 1984.

Achievements

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

One of the most politically controversial playwrights of the 1960’s, Amiri Baraka is best known for his brilliant early play Dutchman and for his contribution to the development of a community-based black nationalist theater. Throughout his career, he has sought dramatic forms for expressing the consciousness of those alienated from the psychological, economic, and racial mainstream of American society. Even though no consensus exists concerning the success of his experiments, particularly those with ritualistic forms for political drama, his challenge to the aesthetic preconceptions of the American mainstream and the inspiration he has provided younger black playwrights such as Ed Bullins and Ron Milner guarantee his place in the history of American drama.

Already well known as an avant-garde poet, Baraka, then LeRoi Jones, first rose to prominence in the theatrical world with the 1964 productions of The Baptism, Dutchman, The Slave, and The Toilet, which established him as a major Off-Broadway presence. Shortly after winning the Obie Award for Dutchman, however, Baraka broke his ties with the white avant-garde to concentrate on the creation of a militant African American theater. As his mainstream reputation declined, he gained recognition as a leading voice of the Black Arts movement, ultimately assuming a position of public political visibility matched by only a handful of American literary figures.

Baraka’s many awards and honors include the Longview Best Essay of the Year award (1961) for his essay “Cuba Libre”; the John Whitney Foundation fellowship for poetry and fiction (1962); the Obie Award for Best American Off-Broadway Play of 1964 for Dutchman; a Guggenheim Fellowship (1965-1966); second prize in the First World Festival of Negro Arts (1966) for his play The Slave; a National Endowment for the Arts grant (1966); an honorary doctorate from Malcolm X College in Chicago (1972); a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in drama (1981); a National Endowment for the Arts poetry award (1981); a New Jersey Council for the Arts award (1982); the American Book Award (Before Columbus Foundation), for Confirmation: An Anthology of African-American Women; a PEN-Faulkner Award (1989); the Langston Hughes Medal (1989) for outstanding contributions to literature; Italy’s Ferroni Award and Foreign Poet Award (1993); and the Playwright’s Award from the Black Drama Festival of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 1997.

Other literary forms

Amiri Baraka (buh-RAH-kuh) is a protean literary figure, equally well known for his poetry, drama, and essays. In addition, he has written short stories and experimental fiction. Baraka’s early plays, notably Dutchman (pr., pb. 1964), The Slave (pr., pb. 1964), and The Toilet (pr., pb. 1964), were produced under his given name, LeRoi Jones, and derive from his period of involvement with the New York City avant-garde. Baraka’s critical and political prose has appeared in many collections, and throughout his career, he has been active as an anthologist of African American literature.

Achievements

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Amiri Baraka has been the recipient of many awards and honors. He won the Longview Best Essay of the Year (1961) for his essay “Cuba Libre,” the Obie Award for Best American Play of 1964 for Dutchman, the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation for Confirmation: An Anthology of African-American Women (1984), a PEN-Faulkner Award (1989), the Langston Hughes Award (1989), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Before Columbus Foundation (1989), Italy’s Ferroni Award and Foreign Poet Award (1993), and the Playwright’s Award from the Black Drama Festival of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 1997. He received fellowships and grants from the John Whitney Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation,...

(The entire section is 154 words.)

Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Baraka, Amiri. Conversations with Amiri Baraka. Edited by Charlie Reilly. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994. Offers insights into the black experience through Baraka’s experiences during the turbulent later half of the twentieth century, from his ghetto life in the 1940’s through the Black Nationalist movement of the 1970’s to his intellectual life in the 1990’s. Baraka critiques and elucidates his works and underscores his belief in the connection between art and social criticism.

Benston, Kimberly W., ed. Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones): A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall,...

(The entire section is 660 words.)