Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

As he approached his fiftieth year, Haki R. Madhubuti drew on his experiences as an engaged artist, a practicing poet, a social activist, and an African American to gather into the form of a book a series of interlinked essays directly addressed to the most serious problems afflicting the African American community. Writing partly in response and as a complement to the strong voices of such African American women essayists as June Jordan, Bell Hooks, and Maya Angelou, among others, partly as a speaker for a social group underrepresented and often “voiceless,” and partly as a concerned citizen confronting a national crisis, Madhubuti combined in his essays the powerful language of a poet and the perceptions of an intellectual activist in a campaign for social justice and communal pride. In Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous? Afrikan American Families in Transition: Essays in Discovery, Solution, and Hope, Madhubuti cast himself in one of the most ancient and most important roles for a poet, that of cultural storehouse of his people. As he put it, “I’m a poet in the Afrikan griot tradition, a keeper of the culture’s secrets, history, short and tall tales, a rememberer.” His essays are a teaching text, a source of wisdom, insight, and inspiration built on the considered experience of the author. The structure of the book is developed through the construction of a foundation of knowledge that is based on the study of a wide variety of writers covering an international perspective; Madhubuti concentrates this material into an individual voice.

To avoid the dangerously narrow viewpoint of an exclusively personal essayist, Madhubuti permits his own singular being to emerge gradually through his language and ideas, with a minimum of specific biographic detail. The only essay that offers information about Madhubuti’s life is entitled “Never Without a Book”; the piece is designed to show how important books have been for him and, by extension, to support his essential argument that the book is the most powerful weapon that a people might utilize in a struggle to preserve its cultural heritage. He recalls that from the age of thirteen, when his mother introduced him to Richard Wright’s Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth (1945), “seldom has there been a day that I’ve been without a book.” He comments that for a poor boy living in Detroit on “unforgiving urban streets,” books “represented revelation and intellectual liberation,” the twin centers of soul and mind. Like many other street...

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(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Hooks, Bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press, 1992. An appropriate complement to Madhubuti’s social commentary from a “committedly feminist, hopefully leftist, and unabashedly racialist perspective.” Includes a highly individual response to the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy.

Hooks, Bell. Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. Boston: South End Press, 1990. Essays described as “direct, sometimes angry, and always probing” that connect African American experiences and traditions with evolving conditions in the postmodern era.

Jennings, Regina. Malcolm X and the Poetics of Haki Madhubuti. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006. Major work evaluating the aesthetics informing Madhubuti’s poetry and arguing that Malcolm X acted as the poet’s “literary muse.”

Madhubuti, Haki R. Don’t Cry, Scream. Chicago: Third World Press, 1969. The first major collection of Madhubuti’s poetry, published by the press he established to give black writers access to adequate publishing and distribution systems. Other important collections include Earthquakes and Sunrise Missions: Poetry and Essays of Black Renewal, 1973-1983 (1984), which offers essays and poetic commentary on political and social issues, and Killing Memory, Seeking Ancestors (1987), which contains “cutting verse” on various manifestations of American culture.

Madhubuti, Haki R. YellowBlack: The First Twenty-one Years of a Poet’s Life: A Memoir. Chicago: Third World Press, 2005. Autobiography covering the formative years of Madhubuti’s life and his first forays into poetry.

Wallace, Michele. Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman. 1979. Reprint. New York: Verso, 1990. The first section presents a feminist critique of the Black Power movement that argues that, as a result of white racism, “there is a profound distrust, if not hatred, between black men and women.” Both a parallel to and another angle on the issues Madhubuti addresses.

Wallace, Michele. Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory. New York: Verso, 1990. A collection of essays and articles on black artists, including Spike Lee, Michael Jackson, Zora Neale Hurston, and Ishmael Reed.