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Home: Social Essays


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Amiri Baraka (b. 1934)

 

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The entries of Amiri Baraka's Home: Social Essays (1966) chronicle the writer's rapidly emerging nationalistic posture. Including a number of essays that were originally published in such journals as Evergreen Review, Liberator, Kulchur, Cavalier, the Nation, Poetry, the Saturday Review, the New York Sunday Herald Tribune, and Midstream, this collection is also representative of the collective consciousness of much of the African American populace of the period. Written in the wake of the global liberation struggles of Africans, African Americans, and people of color in general, these essays reflect a growing impatience with the gradualism of the American civil rights movement, a contempt for liberalism, a passion for moral engagement, and a fervent embracing of African American history and culture.

As with much of Baraka's work, there is little middle ground in appraisal of these essays. William Harris notes in the introduction to The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader (1991) that Home is “an important book of essays written at its author's fullest powers.” A reviewer from Newsweek (May 1966), on the other hand, notes in an examination of Home that “[Baraka] writes and harangues himself out of the company of civilized men; and forfeits all claim to serious attention.”

In “Cuba Libra,” the longest essay in Home, all of the aforementioned themes are apparent. An accounting of a visit to Castro's newly liberated Cuba, this essay reflects strongly the writer's growing dissatisfaction with the “art-for-art's sake” posture of the Beats. In recounting the dialogue between himself and the more engaged Latin American poets also visiting Cuba, the writer reveals the roots of his politically charged later verse. Although this experience predates the writer's avowal of communism by a good number of years, the idealism that made his ideological conversion possible was abundantly present at the time of this visit.

In a number of these essays, Baraka delves deeply into the roots of African American folkways. Mixing a good bit of humor with the more tragic elements of the collective experience of his people, he celebrates those things that have become emblematic of the African American weltanschauung and style (“Soul Food,” “City of Harlem,” and “Expressive Language”).

Much of Home reflects Baraka's impassioned struggle with the idea of a Black Aesthetic. “The Myth of a ‘Negro Literature,”’ “A Dark Bag,” “LeRoi Jones Talking,” and “The Revolutionary Theater” are all fundamentally concerned with the African American writer's finding his or her authentic, morally engaged voice. The first of these essays, originally presented as an address to the American Society for African Culture in March 1962, is most notable for its castigation of most African American writing in terms of its derivative and apologetic nature. While attacking the literature, however, he exalts the bona fide artistry of African American music. Referring to jazz and blues as the only “consistent exhibitors of ‘Negritude’ in formal American culture,” Baraka evidences embryonic patterns of thought that would appear fully developed in his monumental Blues People (1963). The essays referred to here, especially the hortatory “The Revolutionary Theater,” served as touchstones for the many young writers who would ally themselves with the Black Arts movement of the late 1960s.

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Subjects: Literature.


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