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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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They say we betrayed the revolution for drugs, when we knew the source of drugs, and we

knew the danger of drugs and the destructive power of drugs. I am just lucky to come out

alive in contrast to Huey and Eldridge, my buddies, who I smoked dope with



Books by Marvin X

Love and War: Poems  / In the Crazy House Called America / Woman: Man's Best Friend Beyond Religion Toward Spirituality

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Marvin X Unplugged
An Interview by Lee Hubbard


While drugs and their impact have been talked about, no one has really dealt with the addiction to drugs and how it impacts a community and one’s soul. No one has, until Marvin X, a poet, long time writer and activist, decided to touch this subject in his play, One Day in the Life. The play details Marvin X’s life ordeal with drugs, as well as the impact drugs had on former Black Panthers Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton and the Black community.

While the play helped many people exorcise their demons, it also helped to revive the work and career of Marvin X, who, along with Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez, was one of the founding members of the Black Arts Movement. BAM helped to lay an intellectual and artistic base for the Black Power movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

As word spread about Marvin’s Recovery Theatre, many younger people began to discover Marvin X’s controversial work, which during the 60s prompted Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, to ban Marvin X from teaching at state universities.

I was able to sit down and talk to Marvin X about his involvement in the 1960s Black Arts Movement and on his latest book of essays,
In The Crazy House Called America..

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Lee: Tell our readers about your Recovery Theatre.

Marvin: It is a continuation of my work in the Black Arts Theatre. Recovery Theater is a present day Black Arts Theatre. Black Arts was about healing from oppression. Recovery Theater is about healing from drugs and/or oppression. Drug usage is caused by oppression. It is a symptom of a greater problem. I don’t care if you are poor or rich, you can still be oppressed.

Lee: Tell me about your book
In The Crazy House Called America.

Marvin: I thought I would offer a prescription to get out of the crazy house or, if not to get out of it, to transform the crazy house and turn it into a mansion. The prescription is like Frantz Fanon said, “You have to fight your way out of the crazy house to sanity.” That is the only way that the oppressed man and woman can regain their mental health, through revolutionary struggle and challenging the diagnosis that he isn’t sick. Oppression is a sickness. That you allow yourself to be a slave is a sickness. It is a form of mental illness. We become passive.

Lee: So your book has the cure?

Marvin: Well this is what people who have read my book say. It is prescription for action to get up and do something. It is part of the African American literature tradition of how I got over and how I survived, how I made it from Hell and back. It is a lesson that everyone can learn from. If I did it, why can’t you? I had gone from the poorest street in America to the richest street in the world, Wall Street. My national tour was a manifestation that there are many mansions in my father’s house, because everywhere I have stayed, I was in a mansion.

Lee: In your book, you talk about your life on drugs. Explain to our readers how a very literate and educated revolutionary man could get hooked on crack.

Marvin: That is very simple. I am going to say it in the words that my father used. He said, “You are so smart that you outsmarted yourself.” I outsmarted myself, and I played with fire. And I got burned. There was no excuse. I can give you some, but the critical Negroes in New York said that no excuse is acceptable for what happened to me, Eldridge and Huey and other so-called revolutionaries. They say we betrayed the revolution for drugs, when we knew the source of drugs, and we knew the danger of drugs and the destructive power of drugs. I am just lucky to come out alive in contrast to Huey and Eldridge, my buddies, who I smoked dope with who did not make it out. I wrote about this in my play, One Day in the Life.

Lee: Why did you write your book, and what can younger readers get out of it?

Marvin: I wrote it to help save humanity from insanity, because White people are just as crazy if not crazier than Black people. For example, the brothers and sisters in Houston asked me to set up a Recovery Theatre South in Houston. Immediately what came to my mind, more important than recovery from drugs, the South has to recover from racism. I wrote it about everyone, for Muslims as well as Christians. Muslims are sick with religiosity just as Christians are sick with religiosity, and ritualism and mythology. These are some of the causes of our current situation. If we recognize it, we can get a healing.

Lee: Looking back at your career, what do you think of the Black Arts Movement and your contribution to it?

Marvin: The Black Arts Movement was part of the liberation movement of Black people in America. The Black Arts Movement was the artistic arm. The time period we are talking about was from 1964 until the early 1970s. The Black Arts Movement was like a halfway house for brothers and sisters to get Black Consciousness and go from there into the political revolution.

For example, brothers came into the Black Arts Theatre that Ed Bullins and I had in San Francisco, and they got a revolutionary consciousness through Black art, drama, poetry, music, paintings, artwork and magazines. The same thing took place on the East Coast in Harlem at Amiri Baraka’s Black Arts Theatre. In Detroit, they had the Black Arts Movement with Rod Milner and producer Woody King. In Chicago, you had a crew with Haki Madhubuti, Gwendolyn Brooks, Hoyt Fuller. You had the same thing in the South with the Free Southern Theatre in New Orleans that traveled throughout the South and was connected with SNCC. There was a marriage between Black arts and the revolution.

Lee: What happened to this movement?

Marvin: Well, what happens to a dream deferred? It had to be destroyed. Black people were on the road to freedom. We had upped the anti with the Black Power/Black Arts movement, so we had to be stopped.

Lee: What happened with you and the Black Arts Movement?

Marvin: As far as I am concerned it is ongoing. I am still working in it. I just had a great performance in Philadelphia with Sonia Sanchez and Sun Ra’s musicians. I am a manifestation that it is still going, that the Black Arts Movement is still here. Baraka is still here. He has gotten more media play than any poet in America, because of a poem that is coming directly out of a Black Arts tradition of telling it like it is.

Lee: Tell me about your relationship with Amiri Baraka?

Marvin: Well, it is an artistic relationship, and it is a personal relationship. On the artistic level, he set a standard for artists and poets. He set the standard high for revolutionary Black artists. But even Baraka was in the tradition of other writers and activists, such as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Paul Robeson and others. On a personal level, he is like a friend and an uncle, since he is 10 years older than me.

Lee: What did you think of his poem controversy with the governor of New Jersey?

Marvin: I thought it was in the tradition of the Black Arts Movement. I think it was one of his greatest poems. He asked the question, Who. If you ask the question, you might get some answers.

Lee: So where is the revolution?

Marvin: The revolution is inside of the revolutionary. We thought it was outside in the 1960s. We thought we could free the people, but we did not free our families or ourselves. We abused our families. We neglected our families, yet still we were fighting revolution.

But there is no revolution without the family. There is no revolution if we beat our women half to death and neglect our children for an abstraction called freedom. That is why the rappers have gone crazy. They saw our contradiction in the Black Arts Movement. And so they rejected the aesthetics of the Black Arts Movement, and they have gone on to openly express perversions.

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On January 30-31, 2003, Marvin X performed at the Buriel Clay Theatre in the Fillmore district of San Francisco where his career began in 1966 at the Black Arts Theatre. The performance featured material from his book In the Crazy House Called America, plus his poetry, read by himself and performed by actors, choreographed and backed by musicians, including drummers Tacuma King, Kele Nitoto, harpist Destiny, sax Khevan, dancers Suzzette Celeste and Raynetta Rayzetta, actors Geoffrey Grier, Salat Townsend, Judy Jackmon, Lamont Adams, Yusef James. Set by Paula Shular. The concert was videoed by Ptah Allah-El and will be available soon.

Email Marvin X at
  Hubbard at

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

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

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

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#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

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What Orwell Didn't Know

Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics

By Andras Szanto

Propaganda. Manipulation. Spin. Control. It has ever been thus—or has it? On the eve of the 60th anniversary of George Orwell's classic essay on propaganda (Politics and the English Language), writers have been invited to explore what Orwell didn't—or couldn't—know. Their responses, framed in pithy, focused essays, range far and wide: from the effect of television and computing, to the vast expansion of knowledge about how our brains respond to symbolic messages, to the merger of journalism and entertainment, to lessons learned during and after a half-century of totalitarianism. Together, they paint a portrait of a political culture in which propaganda and mind control are alive and well (albeit in forms and places that would have surprised Orwell). The pieces in this anthology sound alarm bells about the manipulation and misinformation in today's politics, and offer guideposts for a journalism attuned to Orwellian tendencies in the 21st century.

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The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story

of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government

By Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer

American democracy is informed by the 18th century’s most cutting edge thinking on society, economics, and government. We’ve learned some things in the intervening 230 years about self interest, social behaviors, and how the world works. Now, authors Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer argue that some fundamental assumptions about citizenship, society, economics, and government need updating. For many years the dominant metaphor for understanding markets and government has been the machine. Liu and Hanauer view democracy not as a machine, but as a garden. A successful garden functions according to the inexorable tendencies of nature, but it also requires goals, regular tending, and an understanding of connected ecosystems. The latest ideas from science, social science, and economics—the cutting-edge ideas of today—generate these simple but revolutionary ideas: (The economy is not an efficient machine. It’s an effective garden that need tending. Freedom is responsibility. Government should be about the big what and the little how. True self interest is mutual interest.

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The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry

By Rita Dove

Selecting poets and poems to represent a century of poetry, especially the riotous twentieth century in America, is a massive undertaking fraught with peril and complication. Poet Rita Dove-a Pulitzer Prize- winning former U.S. poet laureate, professor, and presidential scholar- embarked on what became a consuming four-year odyssey. She reports on obstacles and discoveries in an exacting and forthright introduction, featuring striking quotes, vivid profiles, and a panoramic view of the evolution of poetic visions and styles that helped bring about social as well as artistic change [...] Dove's incisive perception of the role of poetry in cultural and social awakenings infuses this zestful and rigorous gathering of poems both necessary and unexpected by 180 American poets. This landmark anthology will instantly enhance and invigorate every poetry shelf or section.—Booklist

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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. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong.Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)

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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. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.

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My First Coup d'Etat

And Other True Stories from the Lost Decades of Africa

By John Dramani Mahama

Though the colonies of sub-Saharan Africa began to claim independence in the late 1950s and ’60s, autocratic and capricious leadership soon caused initial hope to fade, and Africa descended into its “lost decades,” a period of stagnation and despondency from which much of the continent has yet to recover. Mahama, vice president of the Republic of Ghana, grew up alongside his nascent country and experienced this roller-coaster of fortunes. In this memoir, Mahama, the son of a member of parliament, recounts how affairs of state became real in his young mind on the day in 1966 when no one came to collect him from boarding school—the government had been overthrown, his father arrested, and his house confiscated.

In fluid, unpretentious style, Mahama unspools Ghana’s recent history via entertaining and enlightening personal anecdotes: spying on his uncle impersonating a deity in order to cajole offerings of soup from the villagers hints at the power of religion; discussions with his schoolmates about confronting a bully form the nucleus of his political awakening. As he writes: “The key to Africa’s survival has always been . . . in the story of its people, the paradoxical simplicity and complexity of our lives.” The book draws to a close as the author’s professional life begins.Publishers Weekly

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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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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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