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Neal's commitment to radical politics was demonstrated through his position as education

director of the Black Panther Party and as a member of the Revolutionary Action Movement,

both in the 1960's. Baraka has written that he and Neal initially met at a demonstration

protesting Patrice Lumumba's 1961 assassination.

 

 

Books by Larry Neal

 

Black Fire  / Hoodoo Hollerin Bebop Ghosts / Visions of a Liberated Future

 

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Larry Neal

Poet, Dramatist, Critic

 

Larry (Lawrence Paul) Neal was well-known as a writer, literary and music critic, and major catalyst for the Black Arts Movement of the 1960's and 1970's. Born September 5, 1937 in Atlanta, Georgia he grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from Roman Catholic High School. In 1961 he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in history and English from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, and was a recipient of the Eichelburger Award for Creative Writing from that school. After graduating from college, Neal taught creative writing, a course entitled "Afro-American Literature and Cultural History," and other English courses at several universities including City College of New York, Case Western Reserve and Yale University between 1963 and 1976. In 1970 he was a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship for Afro-American critical studies. Graduate courses in folklore completed in 1964 at the University of Pennsylvania provided Neal with the opportunity to develop his writing skills, but it was folk tales, slang and street chants that shaped his distinctive style of poetry.

In 1964 Neal moved from Philadelphia where he had been teaching at Drexel Institute of Technology to New York City. The following year he married Evelyn Rodgers, a chemist at Mount Sinai Hospital; they adopted a boy, Avatar, in 1971. The Neal's residence on Jumel Terrace in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem, purchased in 1971, served as a magnet for the creative individuals of the period, particularly literary figures whose works gained attention during the late 1960's and the early 1970's, including Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones), Ishmael Reed, Quincy Troupe, Askia Muhammad Toure, Hoyt Fuller, Stanley Crouch, and Henry Dumas. During this period, Neal worked as a copywriter for John Wiley and Sons (1964), and wrote for Liberator magazine, a progressive journal of that time and a publication for which he eventually became arts editor. During his Liberator period (1964-1966) he wrote accounts of cultural events and conducted interviews with writers, artists, and musicians.

Neal's commitment to radical politics was demonstrated through his position as education director of the Black Panther Party and as a member of the Revolutionary Action Movement, both in the 1960's. Baraka has written that he and Neal initially met at a demonstration protesting Patrice Lumumba's 1961 assassination. Neal's relationship with Baraka became more firmly established after Neal wrote an article entitled "The Development of Leroi Jones" which discussed Baraka's transformation from a Beat poet to a revolutionary artist. Together with Askia Toure, Neal and Baraka became principal movers in a group that created the Black Arts Repertory Theatre School in Harlem in 1964. 

Baraka and Neal produced a number of plays including Jones' "Jello" and "Dutchman," and also initiated a series of poetry readings and concerts. The Black Arts Theatre attacked the values of the Establishment theater in New York and presented art that reflected black life with its history of resistance and struggle. The theater was forced to close because of factionalism among the members and the cut of government funds (channeled through HARYOU-ACT) due to this theater's opposition to traditional theater and values. By now, however, the new direction forged in the theater became the impetus for the Black Arts Movement.

This movement by young black artists in the 1960's sought to create art forms that would advance black people's liberation. Neal described the Black Arts Movement as being radically opposed to any concept that alienates the artists from their community. Rather than fuse their ideas with the mainstream white culture, black writers, plastic artists and musicians should speak directly to the needs and aspirations of black America. Neal wrote that "Black Art is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept." Both related to the African-American's desire for self-determination and nationhood. According to Neal, Black Arts was concerned with the relationship between art and politics; Black Power with the art of politics. The Black Arts Movement proposed a separate symbolism, mythology, critique and iconology. Individuals whose perceptions and art work were associated with the movement knew that their perception of reality was different from that of the white American majority.

This movement by young black artists in the 1960's sought to create art forms that would advance black people's liberation. Neal described the Black Arts Movement as being radically opposed to any concept that alienates the artists from their community. Rather than fuse their ideas with the mainstream white culture, black writers, plastic artists and musicians should speak directly to the needs and aspirations of black America. Neal wrote that "Black Art is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept." Both related to the African-American's desire for self-determination and nationhood. According to Neal, Black Arts was concerned with the relationship between art and politics; Black Power with the art of politics. The Black Arts Movement proposed a separate symbolism, mythology, critique and iconology. Individuals whose perceptions and art work were associated with the movement knew that their perception of reality was different from that of the white American majority.

Neal's belief in the centrality of African-American music to developing a black aesthetic was expressed in essays he published in Negro Digest in 1966 and 1967. He, Baraka and A.B. Spellman also collaborated on a magazine, Cricket, a publication devoted to African-American music, which espoused a black nationalistic philosophy. Although Cricket ceased publication after three issues, it served as a vehicle through which black writers attempted to define black art forms and aesthetics.

In 1968 Neal and Baraka edited Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing, a significant publication for the Black Arts Movement, and Neal wrote two ground breaking essays that sought to define the movement. Still the seminal anthology of that period, Black Fire contains works by well-known social critics, poets and playwrights such as James Boggs, Ed Bullins, Sonia Sanchez, Stokely Carmichael, John Henrik Clarke, Harold Cruse, Henry Dumas, and Hoyt Fuller.

In addition to writing essays concerning such topics as the arts and artists, Harlem, and the death of Malcolm X, Neal served as a literary and music critic, writing essays about the works of Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Charlie Parker, and others. Among his many projects, Neal was responsible for the publication of a new edition of Hurston's autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, and for her novel, Jonah's Gourd Vine, for which he wrote the introductions (1971).

Neal also published two books of poetry: Black Boogaloo (1969) and Hoodoo Hollerin' Bebop Ghosts (1974). Black Boogaloo focuses on discovering the historical moment when Africans lost their connection with their gods and ancestors, thereby losing themselves. Hoodoo Hollerin' Bebop Ghosts, Neal's second volume of poetry, explores black folk culture and figures, especially black liberation and Shine. His dramatic works include "The Glorious Monster in the Bell of the Horn" and "In an Upstate Motel," both of which were performed during Neal's lifetime as well as after his death. Lesser known as an arts administrator, Neal held the position of Executive Director for the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities (1976-1979), a city agency that made grants to artists and organizations that encouraged the development of the arts in black communities, including the Elma Louis School of Fine Arts in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

In 1981, Neal died of a heart attack.

Bibliography

Harris, Norman, "Larry Neal." Davis, Thadious M. and Trudier Harris, eds. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 38, Afro-American Writers After 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1985

Neal, Larry, "The Black Arts Movement." Davis Thadious M. and Trudier Harris, eds. Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 38, Afro-American Writers After 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1985

Neal, Larry. Visions of a Liberated Future: Black Arts Movement Writings, Schwartz, Michael, ed. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1989

New York Public Library Digital Library Collections

Neal (Larry) Papers, 1961-1985 http://digilib.nypl.org/dynaweb/ead/scm/scmgneal/@Generic__BookView 

At his death of a heart attack at age forty-three, Neal was assisting the percussionist Max Roach to write his autobiography and had completed a jazz series for a Boston television station and a film script on musical improvisation for Clark College in Atlanta. Neal had nearly completed a book on the rise of black consciousness in the 1960's he had entitled "New Space: Critical Essays on American Culture." This book, published posthumously as Visions of a Liberated Future: Black Arts Movement Writings: Larry Neal (New York, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1989) is a compilation of selected works by Neal (encompassing poetry, essays, and drama); many entries were published during his lifetime. Although not credited, Neal's widow Evelyn Neal assisted in the production of the book by selecting material that was included.

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Excerpt from Kimberly W. Bentson's "Introduction"

 

We do not yet have a coherent history of the great Afro-American cultural movement that began in the mid-1960's, but when that book comes to be written the name of Larry Neal will be central to each of its diverse chapters. For the "Black Arts Movement" owes much more to Neal's magisterial, guiding presence than the name and various normative descriptions he bestowed upon it in his seminal essays of 1965-70. More than any other figure--more even than his more famous associate, Amiri Baraka, whose influence on his generation of writers alone surpasses Neal's--Larry Neal held the movement together by raising it to a power of self-conscious purpose echoing and perhaps transcending that of the so-called "Harlem Renaissance." He did do by an extraordinary combination of efforts, the diversity of which makes his collected works one of the crucial and explanatory accomplishments of the last two decades.

Through two volumes of exceptional verse (Black Boogaloo and Hoodoo Hollerin Bebop Ghosts), several stories and plays (And Shine Swam On, The Glorious Monster in the Bell of the Horn, In an Upstate Motel, et al.), and dozens of critical essays (many of which are soon to be published by Howard University Press), Neal simultaneously described and exemplified the aesthetic and political credo of the movement as it took shape.

Moreover, as founder-editor of several of the most influential journals and 'little magazines' of the sixties--Liberator, Soulbook, The Journal of Black Poetry, Black Theater--and as co-director of the controversial, creative Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School, Neal found himself continually at the heart of the most critical activity in the determination of a productive intelligentsia: the lively embodiment of an evolving communal consciousness. Larry Neal, then, occupied a special and preeminent place among his generation of Afro-American writers, and he did so, I think, largely through those essay-manifestoes for which he remains best known. Neal's reorientation of critical focus--his stress on the importance of racial and political consciousness in the forging of a uniquely Afro-American ethos, or "black aesthetic"--is rooted in the change of sensibility (from what Harold Cruse has termed an "assimilationist" to a "Nationalist" perspective) occurring in the early sixties among Afro-American thinkers.

What Neal has done is to give that change its most precise and cogent critical justification. His insistence upon preserving continuity in the Afro-American tradition by affirming its myriad complexities of style (a principle marvelously reflected in his unique contribution to the achievement of modern black poetry), his demonstration of scholarship's place in the formation of politically-founded statement, his constant assertion that expression itself, understood in all its material intricacy, can be a supreme act of community--all this made Neal's articulation of the Black Arts Movement at once a declaration and a constant challenge to which dozens of artists have avowedly responded.

His "critical nationalism," unlike that of many of his peers, was thus an instrument of great discrimination and effect; the understanding of modern culture's plurality, of the interplay (however violent) of contemporary languages and national styles, cleared areas for conquest a simpler ethnocentricity could not envision. There is thus in the sum of his labors a persuasiveness. a breadth of insight that engendering --without, as Larry himself would be quick to add, losing its rootedness in that very crucible of ideological conflict.

Neal's mastery, moreover, lies not simply in the general devising of the movement's program, but in the particular instances of its demonstration as well. here there is much that will live among the classic pages of Neal's works, one is arrested by the exhilarating presence of an intelligence superbly exact, and having within reach formidable resources of historical, cultural, and textual knowledge. Time and gain, that intelligence is brought into close, subtle commerce with the text, image, figure, or idea in question in an act of total awareness which is often itself art.

Yet we must finally see that the vitalizing power of "The Black Arts Movement," for example, is philosophical and prescriptive; it depends only in minor part on our own awareness of the works Neal is actually citing. Everywhere in his writing, Neal showed the capacity to materialize his theoretic arguments in sudden myth--hence he set aside a number of terms and turns of phrase that remain uniquely his though now widely employed ("Black Arts Movement," Afro-American ethos," "the presence of ancestry," "the evocation of ritual-symbolic nommo," etc.). he is difficult to quote from, however, because the progress of response charted in his work is so continuous and densely woven: a fact which helps explain, perhaps, the exceptionally wide audience his critical works commanded--Neal always wrote as a man addressing others about the urgency of human affairs in their totality. His writing will survive because he made of it an act of pivotal social intelligence that marked, in turn, a signal movement in the history of Afro-American ideas.

Source: Callaloo N. 23 (1985) Dedicated to Larry Neal

Finding Aid for Larry Neal papers, 1961-1985

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

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#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

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#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
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#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

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#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered.  —Jamie Byng, Guardian

/ Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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The Black Arts Movement
Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s

By James Edward Smethurst 

Emerging from a matrix of Old Left, black nationalist, and bohemian ideologies and institutions, African American artists and intellectuals in the 1960s coalesced to form the Black Arts Movement, the cultural wing of the Black Power Movement. In this comprehensive analysis, James Smethurst examines the formation of the Black Arts Movement and demonstrates how it deeply influenced the production and reception of literature and art in the United States through its negotiations of the ideological climate of the Cold War, decolonization, and the civil rights movement.

Taking a regional approach, Smethurst examines local expressions of the nascent Black Arts Movement, a movement distinctive in its geographical reach and diversity, while always keeping the frame of the larger movement in view. The Black Arts Movement, he argues, fundamentally changed American attitudes about the relationship between popular culture and "high" art and dramatically transformed the landscape of public funding for the arts.Publisher, University of North Carolina Press

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Visions of a Liberated Future

Black Arts Movement Writings

By Larry Neal

"What we have been trying to arrive at is some kind of synthesis of the writer's function as an oppressed individual and a creative artist," states Neal (1937-1981), a writer, editor, educator and activist prominent in the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and '70s. Articulate, highly charged essays about the black experience examine the views of his predecessors--musicians and political theorists as well as writers--continually weighing artistic achievement against political efficacy. While the essays do not exclude any readers, Neal's drama, poetry and fiction are more limited in their form of address, more explicitly directed to the oppressed. The poems are particularly intense in their protest: "How many of them / . . . have been made to /prostitute their blood / to the merchants of war." Rhythmic and adopting the repetitive structure of music, they capture the "blues in our mothers' voices / which warned us / blues people bursting out." Commentaries by Neal's peers, Amiri Baraka, Stanley Crouch, Charles Fuller and Jayne Cortez, introduce the various sections.—Publishers Weekly

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Life on Mars

By Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection's "lyric brilliance" and "political impulses [that] never falter." A New York Times review stated, "Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we're alone in the universe; it's to accept—or at least endure—the universe's mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith's pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant." Life on Mars follows Smith's 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet's second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans. The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Related Files:  Neal Interview in Omowe   Larry Neal Chronology  The Black Arts Movement  (Larry Neal)  “Don’t Say Goodbye to the Pork Pie Hat  Larry Neal Bio 

Sonnets for Larry Neal   Larry Neal Speaks  Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing