Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Although Haki R. Madhubuti (MAH-dew-buh-tee) began his writing career as a poet and continues to write poems, he soon asserted that poetry was not only an aesthetic process, but also a sociopolitical act. Therefore, two themes permeating his work are also political goals: black unity and black power (through that unity). Because his efforts as a poet and writer demand total dedication to his political concerns—whether in his personal lifestyle or in his publishing ventures—Madhubuti has essentially chosen the role of poet-as-prophet. As he puts it, “black for the black poet is a way of life.” It should come as no surprise, then, that less than half of his published writing has been poetry (despite its having been his initially favored genre), for Madhubuti does not intend to elevate his status in the black community by his writing so much as he seeks to transform the community through the writing act itself. To that end, he has become one of the foremost social essayists in the Black Nationalist movement, along with Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Maulana Ron Karenga, and Julius K. Nyerere.

Madhubuti has consistently used the social essay to espouse and develop the ideals, difficulties, and goals of what has come to be called cultural nationalism. His book From Plan to Planet, Life Studies: The Need for Afrikan Minds and Institutions (1973) perhaps best expresses the emphasis on “social content” in Madhubuti’s use of the essay and “Blackpoetry,” which, as he says in the preface to Don’t Cry, Scream, is to “tell what’s to be & how to be it,” as vehicles for black liberation. The book, a collection of thirty brief essays organized into four distinct sections, is unified by the underlying premise that black survival, meaning the survival of all peoples of African descent anywhere in the world, including Africa, is threatened both by the political power of European and American governments and by the racism—latent and manifest—in those two Aryan-derived cultures.

In the attempt to unify the diaspora of African culture, Madhubuti begins by examining the individual’s situation in an oppressive culture and asserts the necessity to “create or re-create an Afrikan (or black) mind in a predominantly European-American setting.” (Afrikan here and throughout Madhubuti’s writing is so spelled to indicate a harder c sound indigenous to African languages before the “contamination” of sound and spelling—implying sociopolitical domination—by European colonialism: the change in “standard” spelling is seen as a “revolutionary” act.) This first section, appropriately untitled in recognition of the difficulty involved in establishing a cultural perspective with which to begin a plan of unity, might be called “To See with Afrikan Eyes.” The second section, “Life Studies,” moves from the concern for the black individual to the problems inherent in the local black community. Here Madhubuti shifts from the...

(The entire section is 1250 words.)