Kalamu Ya Salaam

(b. 1947)

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(b. 1947), poet, playwright, essayist, literary and cultural critic, short story writer, editor, and activist.

Kalamu ya Salaam was born Vallery Ferdinand III on 24 March 1947 in New Orleans. He attended Carleton College in Minnesota and Southern University in New Orleans in the 1960s but did not graduate from either school. He was expelled from Southern University for his student protests against the university administration in 1969. From 1965 until 1968 he served in the U.S. Army. He eventually received an associate degree from Delgado Junior College. After completing his formal education, Salaam moved into the next and most important phase of his life's work, social and political activism, and liberation of African Americans and Africans. His community-based work includes participation in such organizations as the World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, Free Southern Theater (which in 1969 changed its name to BLKART-SOUTH), and Ahidiana (a New Orleans Pan-African Nationalist Organization), and he was a founding member and editor of the Black Collegian and executive director of the New Orleans Jazz Heritage, among many other organizations.

His literary productions, whether as poet, playwright, short story writer, or cultural critic, all address his fundamental position that art must be a vehicle to assist in the liberation of African people. To this end, a great deal of his work opposes Western cultural hegemony. His first plays, produced by the Free Southern Theater, reflect both in style and subject matter the nuances of the Black Arts movement and the black aesthetic of the 1960s and early 1970s. Salaam's The Picket (1968), Mama (1969), Happy Birthday Jesus (1969), Black Liberation Army (1969), Homecoming (1970), and Black Love Song (1971) were his attempts to capture the communality of black life in drama. His first volumes of poetry, The Blues Merchant (1969), Hofu Ni Kwenu (1973), and Pamoja Tutashinda (1974), not only created powerful and laudatory images of black people and their life in America but emphasized the need for art to serve a number of political and liberating functions for the black masses. His best-known volume of poetry is Revolutionary Love (1978), which connects the black liberation struggle to the notion of kinship in the black cultural heritage.

His literary and scholarly works since the mid-1970s include Ibura (1976), Tearing the Roof off the Sucker (1977), South African Showdown (1978), Nuclear Power and the Black Liberation Struggle (1978), Who Will Speak for Us? New Afrikan Folktales (1978, coauthored with his wife, Tayari kwa Salaam), Herufi: An Alphabet Reader (1978), Iron Flowers: A Poetic Report on a Visit to Haiti (1979), Our Women Keep Our Skies From Falling (1980), and “He's the Prettiest”: A Tribute to Big Chief Allison “Tootie”Montana's 50 Years of Mardi Gras Indian Suiting, July 12–August 31, 1997 (1997). His works are published in major African American literature anthologies. These works continue earlier themes and subjects of empowering black people at the cultural and political levels. The communal thrust of Salaam's vision extends to his cultural criticism of literature, music, and politics, as announced in his many essays, reviews, and interviews, published in such forums as Negro Digest, Black World, Black Collegian, First World, Black Scholar, and Black Theatre. Salaam is one of the most prolific writers and creators of African American discourse in the late twentieth century. He continues to reside in New Orleans and to carry on his artistic and cultural work.


Subjects: Literature.

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