Books by Amiri
Tales of the Out & the Gone
The Essence of Reparations /
Somebody Blew Up America & Other
of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka /
Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi
* * *
Goodness Descending or
On Hold, Another Man Done Gone
My Man Ron Milner as a Paradigm of Our Losses
Ron, it’s so cold, so cold. That our whole
young phalanx of resisters insister, militants, insurgents,
revolutionaries, the black Intellectuals who rose mid sixties to
challenge the entire intellectual, psychological cultural basis
of White Supremacy Slave Owning America, is gradually been
depleted. With an eerie repetitious militance. Like drums or
gunshots from some kind of infinity with the finite mock of
So the death of a close comrade in the Black
Arts sets me into a frame of grief and daunting apprehension.
Ron who came up with me, like we say. When The Black Arts
Repertory Theatre proclaimed the Black Arts Movement. The mid
60s commitment of the most advanced Black Artists to use their
work to raise the consciousness and level of struggle of the
Afro -American People. To use that art as a weapon, to make a
Malcolm X, Art of National Struggle. To create A Revolutionary
An art that would be Afro-American in form
and feeling in the focus of its content, as Black as the Blues,
The Sorrow Songs, as Black as Blind Lemon or Bessie Smith, as
deep as Billie Holiday , Duke Ellington or John Coltrane,
as wonderful as Sarah Vaughan or Louis Armstrong. An Art that
would come out of the narrow places of elite regard and hit the
street, a mass aimed art, aimed at Black People, to move and
empower, and mobilize and help organize Black People.
And almost as soon as world hit the high and
low ways, we heard that Woodie King and Ron Milner in Detroit,
responded with Black Arts Midwest, and soon we would dig Ron’s
Whose Got His Own, and What The Wine Sellers
Buy, as the first shots fired in his expressive and
constantly expanding repertory. Because Ron was a consummate
professional, and openly confirmed rationalist, he knew what he
wanted to do and relied on his mind and heart not mysterious
inspiration to supply the kazi to turn it out. Jazz Set,
Plus Ron, unlike some of us, was not want to
zip off into the abstract and turgid waygonesphere. He wrote
about Black People, working people, their lives and conflicts,
their passions and loves and tragedies. He wrote about the real
life he had experienced and witnessed, analyzed and summed up.
We would talk often about that, what is a play, what is relevant
to our people our struggle. How do we create a theatre of
The known to make the unknown familiar and useable. And
as always, the great Woodie King was likely to be our engine.
Whenever I came to Detroit, naturally Ron and
I would hang, I mean hang on out, with day and night long
passionate, not conversations, they were too full of everything
we knew remembered and desired to be framed as such, they were
more like open ended discussions or intimate one on one funny
time seminars, or it didn’t matter, other folks could be
present and wave at the words as they sailed back and forth
We would stay up half the night laughing at
each other’s peculiarities and re-calling whatever we liked or
didn’t. We cd talk about The Black Quartet, with Ed
Bullins and Ben Caldwell , produced in NYC by Woodie, of course,
or nuttiness observed at would be Black Arts or Black Drama
Festival, or certain Hip or very Unhip Negroes , the state of
the United Snakes. Anything. And in the end we would fill each
other with a kind of wonderful joviality and compassionate
comradeship. Like we dug we were Brothers, Artists, Comrades in
the service of the People. What ever that brought or took away
from our lives.
Our deepest bond is that we knew we were both
down for the whole number, the protracted struggle. And that
felt good and we dug each other for that.
Will I miss Ron, Ho! Like somebody stole a
few thousand words out of my brain. Like I’d miss part of my
self and spent the rest of my life half sad, half pissed off
about it, every time it came to my mind. Yes, I’ll miss him.
In fact I aint ready to believe it. Probably never will be.
B. WE SHOULD PONDER THE DWINDLING RESOURCES OF OUR CULTURAL
REVOLUTION AND RE-IGNITE THAT SPARK THAT’S LEFT
Some Black Revolutionary Artists of the Black
Arts Movement and Environs, y not many knew. The amazing
Henry Dumas left too early, some fiend in the subway station
murdered him for, they said, jumping a turnstile. That was
not believable but it shot through us at the rising height of
our rebellious frenzy (68).
Then Larry Neal, straight out of his poem
“till the butcher cut me down.” That was deadly, both, a
double deadly slice at our vital production and a reduction of
ammunition for the struggles to come. And they are here.
Some others disappeared, we heard no more
from Cleveland’s, Rudy B. Graham, Norman
Jordan vanished somewhere into infinity, Norman ,some sd,
obsessed with ritual nudity. Mae Jackson, I heard from a few
ticks ago, She must be summoned to re-ignite.
Ray Johnson, L. Goodwin, Ahmed Alhamisi,
DL Graham, Jacques Wakefield, Kuwasi Balagon, where, doing what?
We need their words. Sam Cornish, is he still in Maryland?
Bob Bennett, Al Haynes in Boston, AB
Spellman, Charlie Cobb with Walt Delegall in DC, we need to hear
their voice! Where is Bill Mahoney? Joe Goncalves, who was the
provocateur of Black Poetry Journal, another heavy
thinker he writes from Atlanta. And where the wonderful Welton
Smith. He said it “They want to be White Women” an ugly
prophecy hammered down now with “White Chicks,” yes, played
by Negro men.
Can someone summon Lindsay Barrett who left
Jamaica for Nigeria, who erupted with a scarlet beauty? Charles
Anderson, Richard Thomas, QR Hand, Lethonia Gee, Ron Welburn,
(the brilliant analyst of The Music who the demons removed when
the shift to passivity they felt had come and so sent all our
writers on the music to Sports, and now not a one speaks from
those big mags and the theft rises almost unopposed, even
Stanley Crouch, the most famous “defector,” has been
James Danner, Barbara Simmons. We have not
heard from Lefty Sims, straight off the Harlem prairie, Lebert
Bethune (in the islands they say). What about the two missing in
action in Chicago, Amus Mor and Carolyn Rodgers, Mor’s Poem to
The Hip Generation - exited our whole generation with its use of
The Music and the mytho-biographical narrative of person and
place. His reading on Woodie King’s Motown issued poorly
distributed Black Spirits remains an awesome example of the
artistic and political power generated by the BAM.
Rodgers was reputed to have gone into the
Church on the heavy side. She made the Chi Hood a place of
living struggle and revelation.
Where are they all? Let them reappear and
tell us help us give us a missing strength and power. They are
some of the forces of the Black Arts Cultural Revolution.; We
are pressed now against the wall of erased truth and newly
neoned lies and dishonour.
We had already lost a great innovator, Lorraine Hansberry, who
flexed the breath we did not even know we had. And she, for all
the ink about Raisin, is still no t fully know n for the power
that followed. “The Drinking Gourd.” Whites in Harlem
do Genet’s “The Blacks” but no one seems willing to do
Lorraine’s power answer “Les Blancs.” How many years
before all of her is known?
And Jimmy Baldwin too, the other explosive
paradigm, who helped set the tone, the direction of The Black
Arts Cultural Revolution with all of his searching works
evaluating sorry America. Blues for Mr Charlie presented the
choice, the gun or the bible he said, one of them gonna work!
And so he was removed from the pantheon of the Colored, OK to
read. No Name In the Street, “Evidence” makes it all
abundantly clear of our protracted struggle as well as the
wooden Negroes barb wiring our path!
Margaret Walker the grand dame of Black
American poetry also passed a few months ago. That was as
debilitating culturally as Langston’s exit. Add (really
subtract) Gwendolyn Brooks, our first Pulitzer poet or Dudley
Randall, long time publisher of the nervy and adventurous
Broadside Press or Black World editor, Hoyt Fuller.
And then, so soon too many of those who their
baton was intended Stokely, that energy and commitment to
organizing plus that love for the people is dead, and
Detroit’s revolutionary theorist, James Boggs, John
Henrik Clarke, our towering Historian, likewise to the spirit world.
Calvin Hernton, James Stewart, David Llorens. The Great
visionary of sound and thought, Sun Ra
probably on Saturn
reaching us when he can. Hart LeRoi Bibbs to Paris to eternity.
My main man, Actor, Activist, Yusef Iman, a vacuum where he
pummelled the air. (Remember the LP’s “Black &
Beautiful” “Nation Time” or “Black Mass” w/ Sun Ra).
To the troubled but lyrical insistence
of Harlem’s Clarence Reed, long dead, still unknown. The
lovely irony of Toni Cade Bambara that too removed from us. Big
hearted, Big voiced, Lance Jeffers, Jamaica’s Mikey Smith, the
thrilling Dub: incendiary murdered in Jamaica by Blindaga
perverts. Though Linton Kwesi Johnson, Kamau Braithwaite, Oku
Onuora, Mutabaruka remain & yet cook!
Ngugi wa Thiongo had to escape from Kenya’s
government murderers. The still unknown but important Ugandan
Okot p Bitek suicided by frustration. We could add Martin Carter
and Walter Rodney as part of our United Front as well as the so
called “Black Beats”, Bob Kaufman and Ted Joans with their
uncategorized assaults on the Ignorant, the Arrogant and the
Except we shd know that all those works must
be brought back, republished, that spirit and those lives of
fire and hope re- presented to the world! That is a concrete
critical task. These are works that can reignite our Cultural
Revolution, in the face of Imperialism murderers, liars,
deceivers, white supremacists and wooden Negro apprentices and
We are still bowed with grief and longing for
, one of our closest “bad bard” comrades in
struggle, Gaston Neal, who has still to have his sizzling book
appear. Bobb Hamilton. My sister Kimako, who fought the ignorant
saboteurs with us at the Black Arts Repertory Theatre School who
created The Kuumba Theatre and Kimako’s to raise the life
spirit and cultural understanding of Harlem. She and Arthur
Mitchell had a mid-town Ballet theatre before that, and after
the Black Arts she was the first to bring
And just this year, Nina Simone, Benny
Carter, Vincent Smith, Tom Feelings, Jeff Cobb, Ray Charles the
truth, beauty and power of some who gave full dimension to the
grandness of contemporary Afro-American Arts and Culture. Or the
rebellious colorists, William White, Bob Thompson, gone long
before them. The ingenious Bob Blackburn.
Certainly from the specific pledge of
understanding and commitment to black American Political and
Cultural Insurrection the Black Arts Movement itself proclaimed.
And since then dwell a moment on the Monumental
subtraction of our force the Coltrane, Clifford Browns, Duke
Ellington, Billie Holiday, Olatunji, Albert Ailey, Thelonius
Monk, Albert Ayler, Sarah Vaughan, Marvin Gaye, Miles
Davis, Elvin Jones, Eddie Blackwell, Julius Hemphill, Don
Cherry, Lester Bowie, Don Pullen, in
addition the Huey Newton, Martin Luther Kings, Malcolm X . It
should be hurtfully clear how much we are in need of a
regrouping a repositioning, a reaffirmation, remobilization of
the Afro American Artistic Culture.
So from the specific parameters of the
Black Arts Movement, we know that Ed Bullins, Ben Caldwell,
Woodie King, Marvin X, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, David
Henderson, Sonia, Ted Wilson, Carol Freeman, Ojijiko, Askia Touré
(Rolland Snellings), Willie Kgostisile (in S.
Africa), Ed Spriggs (the spark that built the now enemy-occupied
Studio Museum of Harlem), Reggie Lockett, Sam Anderson, Clarence
Franklin, Jay Wright, Yusef Rahman,
Lorenzo Thomas, Joe White,
Charlie Fuller, Haki
Madhubuti, Sterling Plumpp,
Garrett, Gylan Kain (In Netherlands), The other "Last
Poets," Felipe Luciano, Daveed Nelson, Umar, Abiodun, I
know they alive and well. Nikki Giovanni, Mari Evans, Johari
Amini, they around.
Victor Hernandez Cruz (in Puerto Rico?) was
in Black Fire, though we have also lost our Latin
brothers, Mikey Pinero, the great Pedro Pietri,) But Miguel
Algarin, Sandra Esteves, Papaleto, Piri Thomas, "are" on
the scene. And Miguel’s NuYorican Poets Theatre still stands
and delivers. Just as John Watusi Branch’s African Poetry
Theatre in Queens holds fast.
Marvelous Woodie King, still kicks out new
drama monthly at the New Federal Theatre in NYC.
Marvin X s Recovery Theatre in Oakland Is
still producing. Amina & Amiri Baraka’s Kimako’s Blues
People has functioned for the last 15 years in their basement,
in Newark. Closed for the last year by the obscene tragedy of
our youngest daughter, Shani’s, murder. They are planning to
reopen it later in 04.
Haki Madhubuti’s Third World Press is a
powerful institution of confrontation with ignorance and
ugliness. Baraka has begun publication of the newspaper Unity
& Struggle (June 04) and is calling for allies in initiating
a journal and publishing entity called RAZOR . Sonia Sanchez and
her son, Mungu are filming a series of interviews with BAM
activists which is something now critically needed.
All this together suggests though we are now
near bottom of the Sisyphus Syndrome, as Dubois termed the up
and down motion of the BLM, the Afro-American struggle for
Democracy & Self- Determination!, we still have a great many
resources Â needing only to be re-mobilized, plus we must
begin to re- produce and re-present the important works in the
huge treasure chest of the Afro American Artistic and Political
culture! And as well re-introduce those revolutionary
figures who have contributed to the power, the truth
and beauty of Black American Culture.
Baraka , Newark Schools Poet Laureate,
The Last Poet Laureate of New Jersey
* * * *
Ron Milner (29
May 1938--9 July 2004)
"The more I read in high school
[Detroit, Michigan], the more I realized that some tremendous,
phenomenal things were happening around me. What happened in a
Faulkner novel happened four times a day on Hastings Street. I
thought why should these crazy people Faulkner writes about seem
more important than my mother or my father or the dude down the
street. Only because they had someone to write about them. So I
became a writer."
1962: Milner won John Jay Whitney
Fellowship to finish the novel "Life with Father
1964: Milner joined Woodie King in the
Concept East Theater (Detroit) then went to New York to join
Harvey Swados' writing workshop at Columbia. Joined King at the
American Place Theatre.
1966: The play
Who's Got His Own introduced him to
"What is primarily at issue in the play is the question of black manhood,
the expression of which has historically been thwarted. Milner
dramatizes this issue by making his protagonist a highly
combative and alienated son, torn by despair over ever being
able to respect or love a father he has long since written off
as a fierce tyrant at home and a coward at work.. After his
mother's revelations, he is pitted against the hidden forces of
family history embedded in that rejected father's past. The
played toured the state colleges in new York State before it
returned to New York City for a run at the New Lafayette Theatre
in 1967" (Beunyce Rayford Cunningham).
Writer in Residence at Lincoln University (Pennsylvania), where
he came to know Langston Hughes encouraging him in black
Milner's The Warning--A Theme for Linda was staged as
part of A Black Quartet, with plays by Milner, Ben
Caldwell, Ed Bullins, and Amiri
Produced by Woodie King at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's
Chelsea Theatre Center 25 April 1969.
Warning Milner takes up again the theme of manhood, but this
time through the eyes, memories, and dreams of women, primarily
through the character Linda. Instead of rejecting men as her
grandmother and her mother, she challenges her platonic friend
Donald that they become lovers and he a genuinely strong man to
match the strong, determined woman she will become.
Monsters staged October 1969 at Chicago's Louis Theatre
takes up black manhood and political leadership on a black
college campus. The satire involves deprogramming and unmasking
an academic dean.
Emerged as important essayist. "Black Theater -- Go
Home!" and "Black Magic, Black Art"
express the need of the black artist to cultivate a black
audience and stress the importance of the jazz musician as a
model for a writer.
with Woodie King, Jr. Black Drama Anthology (1972).
Achieved commercial success with What the Wine Sellers Buy
opened at the New Federal Theatre on 17 May 1973. The play
depicts the pressures on a seventeen-year-old Detroit youth
Steve Carlton, to try the hustler's life and to start by turning
his own sweetheart, Mae, into a prostitute.
actually seen a 10-year-old boy sniffling salt -- not cocaine;
he didn't have any concept of what cocaine was -- but salt,
because he wanted to look like Superfly. You see enough
cases of this and it suddenly becomes important enough to write
about. . . . A similar incident happened to me when I was young.
But I think I would have just passed over it, except that I saw
the same thing happening to other guys as well -- young guys who
were clearheaded and intelligent, and able to achieve, suddenly
using all their energies to turn over dope. They'd bought a
system of values that says anything you do to get a car or money
or clothes is all right. . . . The people who pollute the air
and water for profit have no right to point fingers at Rico [the
pimp]. . . . When he talks about everything for profit, trading
everything for money, he's talking about society" (Ron
What the Wine Sellers Buy opened 14 February at the Vivian
Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center.
a commercial success, grossing more than a million dollars in
Chicago; more than $60,000 a week in Detroit during its
fourteen-week run in Detroit's Fisher Theatre in 1975.
Season's Reasons, produced in Milner's Langston
Hughes Theatre. An a capella operatta, dramatizes the state of
"future shock" suffered by a young revolutionary who
escapes from jail after a long period of incarceration
Jazz Set, produced Mark Taper Forum. Focuses on the members of a
jazz sextet revealing their individual stories in a fluid
fashion. Handles the artist as character.
Crack Steppin', produced at Detroit's Music Hall
Sources: Woodie King, Jr.
"Directing Winesellers," Black World, 25 (April 1976): 20-26;
Larry Neal, "The Black Arts Movement," in The Black American
Writer, volume 2, edited by C.W.E. Bigsby (De Land: Everett Edwards,
1969), pp. 187-202.
posted July 2004
* * *
updated 13 March 2009