Madhubuti, Haki R

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Pseudonyms: Don L. Lee. Nationality: American. Born: Little Rock, Arkansas, 23 February 1942. Education: Dunbar Vocational High School, Chicago; Wilson Junior College; University of Illinois, Chicago Circle; Chicago City College, A.A. 1966; Roosevelt University, Chicago, 1966–67; University of Iowa, Iowa City, M.F.A. 1984. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1960–63. Family: Married Johari Amini; two children. Career: Apprentice curator, DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago, 1963–67; stock department clerk, Montgomery Ward, Chicago, 1963–64; post office clerk, Chicago, 1964–65; junior executive, Spiegel's, Chicago, 1965–66. Taught at Columbia College, Chicago, 1968; writer-in-residence, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 1968–69; poet-in-residence, Northeastern Illinois State College, Chicago, 1969–70; lecturer, University of Illinois, Chicago, 1969–71; writer-in-residence, Morgan State College, Baltimore, 1972–73, Howard University, Washington, D.C., 1970–75, and Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio, 1979–80. Since 1984 associate professor of English, Chicago State University. Founding member, Organization of Black American Culture Writers Workshop, 1967–75. Since 1969 director, Institute of Positive Education, Chicago. Since 1967 editor and publisher, Third World Press, Chicago; since 1972 editor, Black Books Bulletin, Chicago. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1969, 1982; Kuumba Workshop Black Liberation award, 1973. Address: Third World Press, 7524 South Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60619, U.S.A.

Publications (earlier works as don l. lee)


Think Black. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1967; revised edition, 1968,1969.

Black Pride. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1968.

Back Again, Home. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1968.

One Sided Shoot-Out. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1968.

For Black People (And Negroes Too). Chicago, Third World Press, 1968.

Don't Cry, Scream. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1969.

We Walk the Way of the New World. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1970.

Directionscore: Selected and New Poems. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1971.

Book of Life. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1973.

Earthquakes and Sunrise Missions: Poetry and Essays of Black Renewal 1973–1983. Chicago, Third World Press, 1984.

Killing Memory, Seeking Ancestors. Detroit, Lotus, 1987.

Ground Work: New and Selected Poems of Don L. Lee/Haki R. Madhubuti from 1966–1996. Chicago, Third World Press, 1996.

Heartlove: Wedding and Love Poems. Chicago, Third World Press, 1998.

Recording: Rappin' and Readin', Broadside Press, 1971.


Dynamite Voices: Black Poets of the 1960's. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1971.

From Plan to Planet: Life Studies: The Need for Afrikan Minds and Institutions. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1973.

A Capsule Course in Black Poetry Writing, with others. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1975.

Enemies: The Clash of Races. Chicago, Third World Press, 1978.

Say That the River Turns: The Impact of Gwendolyn Brooks. Chicago, Third World Press, 1987.

Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous?: African American Families in Transition: Essays in Discovery, Solution, and Hope. Chicago, Third World Press, 1990.

Africa-Centered Education: Its Value, Importance, and Necessity in the Development of Black Children. Chicago, Third World Press, 1994.

Claiming Earth: Race, Rage, Rape, Redemption: Blacks Seeking a Culture of Enlightened Empowerment. Chicago, Third World Press, 1994.

Editor, with Patricia L. Brown and Francis Ward, To Gwen with Love. Chicago, Johnson, 1971.

Editor, with Maulana Karenga, Million Man March/Day of Absence: A Commemorative Anthology. Chicago, Third World Press, 1996.

Editor, with Gwendolyn Mitchell, Releasing the Spirit: A Collection of Literary Works from Gallery 37. Chicago, Third World Press, 1998.

Editor, with Gwendolyn Mitchell, Describe the Moment: A Collection of Literary Works from Gallery 37. Chicago, Third World Press, 2000.


Critical Studies: "Black Poetry's Welcome Critic" by Hollie I. West, in The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), 6 June 1971; "A Black Poet Faces Reality" by Vernon Jarrett, in Chicago Tribune, 23 July 1971; "The Relevancy of Don L. Lee As a Contemporary Black Poet" by Annette Sands, in Black World (Chicago), June 1972; "Some Black Thoughts on Don L. Lee's Think Black: Thanks by a Frustrated White Academic Thinker" by Eugene E. Miller, in College English (Champaign, Illinois), May 1973; New Directions from Don L. Lee by Marlene Mosher, Hicksville, New York, Exposition, 1975; An Analysis of the Poetry of Three Revolutionary Poets: Don L. Lee, Nikki Giovanni, and Sonia Sanchez (dissertation) by Elaine Marie Shouse, n.p., 1976; The Black Idiom, African-American Poetry and Haki R. Madhubuti: A Stylistic Analysis (dissertation) by John Thomas Wolfe, n.p., 1977; Objectism in the Poetics of Haki R. Madhubuti and Some Contemporary Black Poets (dissertation) by Lizzie Mae Golden, n.p., 1978; "'Ain'ts,' 'Us'ens,' and 'Mother-Dear': Issues in the Language of Madhubuti, Jones, and Reed" by Lemuel Johnson, in Journal of Black Studies, 10, 1979; "Militant Singers: Baraka, Cultural Nationalism and Madhubuti" by William J. Harris, in Minority Voices (University Park, Pennsylvania), 2(2), 1979; "The Public Response to Haki R. Madhubuti, 1968–1988" by Julius E. Thompson, in Literary Griot (Wayne, New Jersey), 4(1–2), spring-fall 1992; The X-Factor Influence on the Transformed Image of Africa in the Poetry of Haki Madhubuti and Sonia Sanchez: Issues of Renaming and Inversion (dissertation) by Regina Belvex Jennings, Temple University, 1993.

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Looking at the continuum of his writing, one is impressed by Haki R. Madhubuti's matured technical independence, worldview, awareness of the social implications of technology, and abiding love for his people. The result is poetry that successfully conveys spontaneity and emotional compulsion as well as thoughtful ideological commitment. Beginning as one of the young African-American poets who emerged during the black arts movement in the late 1960s, Madhubuti (known at the start of his career as Don L. Lee) proved to be one of the most powerful in content and one of the most creative and influential in technique. Earlier perceptions of him as brash, irreverent, or almost fanatical served to divert attention from certain qualities and habits that underlie his revolutionary stance—intellectual thirst, broad and intense reading and study, high seriousness, thoughtful reflection, and a predilection for both analysis and synthesis.

Madhubuti's artistic outlook has always been consciously utilitarian and informed by sociopolitical concerns centering on black people's self-definition, self-determination, self-help through collective and institutional efforts, and humanness. Examples include "In the Interest of Black Salvation," which shows disillusionment with orthodox Euro-American religion; "Back Home Again," an account of an excursion into an alien (white) "establishment" world and a subsequent return to blackness; "But He Was Cool," a satire on the vapid, faddish, and showy lifestyles affected by some African-Americans; and "Re-Act for Action," a cry for aggression against racism.

While his focus is socioethnic, Madhubuti's thematic concerns may be considered universally relevant. A people's needs, he asserts, are food, clothing, shelter, and education. In the context of this worldview, he believes that the miseducation of African Americans has conditioned them to "do what /they /have been taught to do." Thus, because African-American men find themselves "walking the borders /between /smiles and outrage," they must see clearly and act responsibly and morally. He writes that "conscious men do not make excuses /do not expect their women to carry their water, /harvest the food and prepare it too. /world over it is known that /breast sucking is only guaranteed for babies." As a corollary he points out the inherent power of women: "if black women do not love, /there is no love." Of their inherent beauty, he writes that "dark women are music /some complicated well worked /rhythms /others simple melodies." To both men and women, he advises, "… be what you want your children to be."

An example of Madhubuti's particular interest in the African diaspora is shown by the dedication of the title poem in his collection Killing Memory, Seeking Ancestors to Nelson and Winnie Mandela. Thinking in international terms, he foresees in "The End of White World Supremacy" "The day, hour, minute /and /second that the /chinese /and /japanese /sign /a /joint /industrial /and /military /pact."

Madhubuti prefers the speech of the African-American urban masses, much of it well suited for oral delivery. (He is in demand for public appearances.) Particularly in his earlier poetry, he frequently achieves the desired aural effects through extra vowels or consonants, phonetic spellings, and elisions. In his earlier work he is also partial to spatial arrangements, broken words, unconventional syntax and punctuation, and the ampersand and diagonal. Throughout his corpus he is fond of playing with words, particularly syntactic reversals and the breaking of words into components, which he uses for irony, purposeful double meaning, emphasis of discreet components of meaning, aural effects, and other reasons. His imagery is strong, concrete, and specific. Occasionally his late poetry, most noticeable in Killing Memory, Seeking Ancestors, moves toward prose poetry, as in "Poet: Whatever Happened to Luther." Frequently he builds a poem's tension incrementally, withholding its point or resolution until the end, at which time the poem's logic or impact is made manifest.

Madhubuti illustrates the office of the poet as shaman, griot, priest, prophet, and seer.

—Theodore R. Hudson