Article

The Black Arts Movement By Doss, Crystal Gorham

DOI: 10.4324/9781135000356-REM1335-1
Published: 02/05/2017
Retrieved: 23 January 2021, from
https://www.rem.routledge.com/articles/the-black-arts-movement

Article

Abstract

The Black Arts movement (BAM) spanned the period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s and is considered an artistic extension of the Black Power movement. BAM writers aimed to produce explicitly political art and saw the artist as a political activist. Though it began in New York, the BAM was a national movement. It was also an intellectual and academic movement that changed how African American literature was valued and studied. BAM writers focused on telling the stories of the past, recovering the work of formerly unknown artists, and exploring the diversity of the contemporary Black experience. BAM artists frequently used African American Vernacular English. The BAM included authors of drama, poetry and prose. Key figures in this movement included Amiri Baraka (1934–2014), Sonia Sanchez (1934–), Nikki Giovanni (1943–), Maya Angelou (1928–2014), Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000) and Larry Neal (1937–1981). The BAM is unique among modernist artistic movements because of its political and social engagement. It influenced writers like Toni Morrison (1931–) and Alice Walker (1944–), and it inspired minority writers from other historically oppressed groups.

The Black Arts movement (BAM) spanned the period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s and is considered an artistic extension of the Black Power movement. BAM writers aimed to produce explicitly political art and saw the artist as a political activist. Though it began in New York, the BAM was a national movement. It was also an intellectual and academic movement that changed how African American literature was valued and studied. BAM writers focused on telling the stories of the past, recovering the work of formerly unknown artists, and exploring the diversity of the contemporary Black experience. BAM artists frequently used African American Vernacular English. The BAM included authors of drama, poetry and prose. Key figures in this movement included Amiri Baraka (1934–2014), Sonia Sanchez (1934–), Nikki Giovanni (1943–), Maya Angelou (1928–2014), Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000) and Larry Neal (1937–1981). The BAM is unique among modernist artistic movements because of its political and social engagement. It influenced writers like Toni Morrison (1931–) and Alice Walker (1944–), and it inspired minority writers from other historically oppressed groups.

Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), who founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School in 1965, is widely considered to have been the initiator of the BAM, though the latter was born out of many political and artistic groups in New York in the mid-1960s and the assassination of Malcolm X (1925–1965) is seen by some to have catalyzed its formation. In addition to receiving political direction from the Black Power movement, the Black Arts movement was influenced by writers such as Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960), W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) and Langston Hughes (1902–1967).

BAM artists were concerned with showing the beauty, dignity and complexity of the Black experience. BAM writing was by Black artists for the Black community. While exploring the effects of Racism, BAM writers were not concerned with doing so in a way that made such effects palpable to White audiences. Black folk culture and Black roots music, blues and jazz were celebrated and used as sources of inspiration. The BAM also explored the global ramifications of Racism, Colonialism and Capitalism.

The BAM served as a gateway between Modernism and Postmodernism. The aesthetics of the BAM was a major shift away from that of New Criticism, which was the dominant literary movement of the time. Unlike the aesthetics of the latter, the aesthetics of the former was grounded in social and political problems. Though the BAM has been criticized as having been misogynistic, many important women writers whose work explored the intersection of gender, race and class were involved with the movement, and many subsequent Black feminist writers were greatly influenced by it.

Further Reading

  • Baraka, A. and Neal, L. (eds) (1968) Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing, Baltimore, MD: Black Classic Press.

  • Collins, L. G. and Crawford, M. N. (eds) (2006) New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

  • Gayle, A. (ed.) (1971) The Black Aesthetic, New York: Doubleday.

  • Ongiri, A. A. (2010) Spectacular Blackness: The Cultural Politics of the Black Power Movement and the Search for a Black Aesthetic, Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.

  • Smethurst, J. E. (2005) The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

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Published

02/05/2017

Article DOI

10.4324/9781135000356-REM1335-1

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Citing this article:

Doss, Crystal Gorham. "The Black Arts Movement." The Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism. : Taylor and Francis, 2016. Date Accessed 23 Jan. 2021 https://www.rem.routledge.com/articles/the-black-arts-movement. doi:10.4324/9781135000356-REM1335-1

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