Amiri Baraka and Eyes on the Prize II

10 Jan
Interview with Amiri Baraka conducted by Blackside.

Interview with Amiri Baraka conducted by Blackside.

Amiri Baraka, poet and playwright, has died at age 79. Baraka, a major literary figure and activist who helped lead the Black Arts Movement, was interviewed for the Blackside series “Eyes on the Prize II.” Baraka’s works include numerous books of poems and essays and his play “Dutchman” won the 1964 Obie Award for best American play. His interview, which is available to read in full online, was also featured in “Malcolm X: Make It Plain” and “I’ll Make Me a World.”

The interview covers many topics, Malcolm X, African-American artists and writers, African nationalism, to name just a few. Baraka also talked about how he helped found the Black Arts Movement which has been referred to as “the artistic sister to the Black Power Movement.”

 We organized a thing called the Black Arts up in Harlem…I think that by the next month we had, you know, bought this building and opened the Black Arts, which is a group of people, a group of Black people who were trying to put together an organization of Black artists. And so, to us, that  had to be now, and it had to be done. If art really was going to serve the people, it could really help make revolution, then those of us who thought we should get on with the work or shut up about it. That’s the way I felt.

I mean, the arts reflect the social movement all the time.  The arts are only a reflection of society. You know, so when you have a social upsurge you always have an artistic upsurge that reflects that. So that the whole anti-slavery movement, you get the slave narratives, you know, the great speeches and, and, orators and rhetoric from the Black convention movement. When you have the whole Garvey, Du Bois, African Blood Brotherhood at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, you’ve got Harlem Renaissance, you know, Negritude, Negrismo, Negrism and all that stuff. In the ’60s, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, SNCC, the Panthers, you have a Black arts movement that reflects that because the artists who are most sensitive to what the society is doing and particularly the people that they, you know, they draw their life sustenance from. The art movement has the same kind of desire, you know.

Interview with Amiri Baraka, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on March 31, 1989, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

For more information about this interview, or any other interview from Eyes on the Prize, contact the Film & Media Archive.

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