Essays of the Early 1960’s
Home contains a number of eloquent and provocative essays. “Cuba Libre,” first published in Evergreen Review in 1960, is an account of Baraka’s journey to Havana, under the auspices of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, to inspect the cultural results of Fidel Castro’s revolution. With insight and humor as well as righteous indignation, Baraka reports both changes in Cuba and the emergence of his own nascent self-criticism.
“Cuba Libre” and other essays of the early 1960’s are grounded in the same critical view of middle-class America that was the impetus for the poetry of the Beat generation writers. These writers thought that the peaceful image projected during the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower masked persistent social problems and deep-seated racial resentments that erupted in full force during the 1960’s. On his visit to Cuba, Baraka became aware of the marginality of American literary protest and recognized that what the Beats thought of as social rebellion was, when compared to the political commitment of Latin American writers, rather mild. “The rebels among us,” he wrote, “have become merely people like myself who grow beards and will not participate in politics.” As a result of his experience in Cuba, Baraka’s thought and writings became more politically engaged.
In “The Myth of a Negro Literature,” Baraka writes that early African American writers were even less effective than the Beat protesters. In “A Dark Bag,” Baraka reviews several anthologies and collections of African and African American poetry and complains thatone will find poems that tell us the black man has been oppressed and generally misused, usually by the white man. Very few of these poems, however, tell us what that is like, at least very few do with even the intensity of Kipling telling us what it is like to do the oppressing, or know people that do.
Baraka redefines his own quest as both poet and critic as an attempt accurately to describe oppression from the victim’s viewpoint, with an intensity that will mobilize resistance to it.