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...

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(Poets and Poetry in America)

Perhaps Haki R. Madhubuti’s single most impressive accomplishment has been not his success with new forms of poetry, his articulation of new social criticism, his formulation of new aesthetic principles, or his success as a publisher and editor, but his ability to accomplish all these goals, for which, he asserts, a black poet must struggle. Madhubuti is the black poet of his proposed “total dedication” to black liberation and “nationbuilding.” In his embodiment of his principles and commitment, Madhubuti has reached into corners of the black community that have been heretofore untouched by black literature or liberation politics. Within four years of the publication of his first book, he had “sold more books of poetry (some 250,000 copies) than probably all the black poets who came before him combined” (The Black Collegian, February/March, 1971). One would be hard-pressed to name any American poet who could boast such a large figure in such short time—twenty-five thousand copies, 10 percent of Madhubuti’s sales, might be considered a phenomenal success. Clearly, Madhubuti’s popularity does not rest on library or classroom purchases; it is based on the very “market” he seeks to speak to: the black community. Having defined his audience as exclusively the blacks of the United States in his social criticism, he has found a quite remarkable response from that desired audience even though he is frequently blunt in his...

(The entire section is 439 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Gayle, Addison, Jr. The Black Aesthetic. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971. A well-indexed book that discusses Madhubuti in the context of the “new” black poetry of the 1960’s. Includes one of Madhubuti’s essays on that topic, along with a brief biography.

Madhubuti, Haki R. “Hard Words and Clear Songs: The Writing of Black Poetry.” In Tapping Potential: English Language Arts for the Black Learner, edited by Charlotte K. Brooks et al. Urbana, Ill.: Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English, 1985. In this article, Madhubuti outlines some of his poetic philosophy. He explains why he writes, as a poet, and as an African American. Helpful to understanding Madhubuti’s outlook.

Madhubuti, Haki R. “Interview with Haki Madhubuti.” In Heroism in the New Black Poetry: Introductions and Interviews, edited by D. H. Melhem. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990. An illuminating discussion of Madhubuti’s artistic and political aims.

Mosher, Marlene. New Directions from Don L. Lee. Hicksville, N.Y.: Exposition Press, 1975. This volume is one of the only available book-length studies on Madhubuti, so it is extremely valuable to any student of his work. Mosher provides criticism and interpretation of Madhubuti’s important writing up to the mid-1970’s. Includes a bibliography and an index.

Palmer, R. Roderick. “The Poetry of Three Revolutionists: Don L. Lee, Sonia Sanchez, and Nikki Giovanni.” In Modern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Donald B. Gibson. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1973. Discusses Madhubuti as a “protest poet” who wants readers to “discover blackness.” Quotes heavily from his poems to show how they comment on a variety of subjects, including topical events, women’s liberation, and education.

Randall, Dudley. “Broadside Press: A Personal Chronicle.” In The Black Seventies, edited by Floyd B. Barbour. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1970. A poet and editor, Randall clarifies the important relationship between Madhubuti’s career and the rise of independent black presses in the 1960’s. An essay by Madhubuti also appears in the collection.

Thompson, Julius E. “The Public Response to Haki R. Madhubuti, 1968-1988.” The Literary Griot: International Journal of Black Expressive Cultural Studies 4, nos. 1/2 (Spring/Summer, 1992): 16-37. A study of the critical treatment and public response to the works of Madhubuti.