Conversations with Amiri Baraka
Readers of Amiri Baraka’s books know the intensity of his rage against racism and economic injustice. Readers of these interviews collected by critic Charlie Reilly will catch a glimpse of the author as his political views evolved through three decades. Those interested in a static or logically consistent portrait of the author will be dismayed. Those fascinated by how an author must explore numerous meandering detours before arriving at a clearly defined path will find much of fascination.
Interviewers range from the famous (author Maya Angelou, television personality David Frost) to the obscure. Attitudes among these interviewers range from the fawning to the acidly critical. Baraka emerges from these interviews as a disarming mix of the erudite and the glib. His gifts as a satirist come to the fore when he pokes fun at white political leaders. He is less inspired when he lectures to his interviewers about his favorite cause of the time—whether Black Nationalism, Islam, or Marxism.
As consistently lively as Baraka’s views on race and literature are, this collection makes for occasionally tedious reading. Baraka’s early ties to “Beat Generation” writers such as Allen Ginsberg are touched upon in identical fashion in several interviews. A more substantial introduction by the editor would have provided a comprehensive mapping of the key trends in Baraka’s literary career. As is stands, interviewers make references to Baraka’s books in ways that presuppose the reader’s acquaintance with such works. Nevertheless, the reader will find much to ponder as he or she witnesses Baraka shedding one ideological “suit of clothing” for another while maintaining a poetically lyrical perception of the world.