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OBAC Writers' Workshop

OBAC Writers' Workshop

The Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC) was founded in Chicago in 1967, and its writers' workshop survived longer than any other literary group of the black arts movement. Originally conceived by a small group of intellectuals that included Hoyt Fuller, the editor of Negro Digest, the poet Conrad Kent Rivers, and Gerald McWorter (Abdul Alkalimat), its purpose was to nurture artists and, in keeping with the general agenda of the black arts movement, to develop close ties between artists and the black community in a collective endeavor to revolutionize black culture and black consciousness. The acronym OBAC, pronounced "oh-bah-see," echoes the Yoruba word oba, which refers to royalty and leadership.

Like many other black arts organizations, OBAC was predicated on a conception that artists have a special role to play as leaders of a cultural revolution. Accordingly, the original vision of OBAC was broad, comprising three separate "workshops"writers, visual artists, and community relationsbut not overlapping the work of groups such as the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), founded in 1965, and nascent theater groups such as the KUUMBA Workshop, which formed shortly after OBAC. The visual arts workshop, led by Jeff Donaldson, soon evolved into an independent group, AfriCobra (1968), and the community workshop disbanded. Within a couple of years OBAC became exclusively a writers' workshop, and continued to thrive in that form until 1992.

Several of the position papers issued by OBAC during its early days have been collected in Nommo: A Literary Legacy of Black Chicago (1987), an anthology celebrating the first two decades of the workshop. While these manifestos stated OBAC's objectives clearly, the group's structure and activities equally revealed its fundamental values. Foremost among the tenets in OBAC's statement of purpose were:

  1. the establishment of a black aesthetic;
  2. the encouragement of the highest quality of literary expression;
  3. the identification of critical standards for black writing; and
  4. the development of black critics.

Other objectives included fostering a spirit of cooperation among writers, issuing publications, and conducting readings and forums for the public. To achieve these goals, OBAC remained an independent, community-based organization, free of institutional affiliations. OBAC published a newsletter, Cumbaya, and a magazine, Nommo. In addition to sponsoring traditional readings and forums, OBAC conducted readings in public places such as bus stops and taverns. At weekly meetings members and visitors read their works and received criticism from members of the group.

Among its alumni OBAC boasts many well-known writers. Poets include Haki Madhubuti (Don L. Lee), Johari Amini, Carolyn Rodgers, Sterling Plumpp, and D. L. Crockett-Smith. Fiction writers include Cecil Brown and Sam Greenlee. Some, such as Angela Jackson and Sandra Jackson-Opoku, have published fine work in several genres. Regardless of individual differences, OBAC writers held in common a commitment to produce work that in some sense derived from and spoke to the black community. OBAC's emphasis on public readings reflected that commitment, producing a group of writers who are skilled and charismatic readers of their own work. The workshop embodied the vision of literary activity that at once expressed and enlivened the culture of the black community.

See also Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians; Black Arts Movement; Madhubuti, Haki R. (Lee, Don L.); Literature of the United States; Poetry, U.S.


Parks, Carole A., ed. Nommo: A Literary Legacy of Black Chicago (19671987). Chicago: OBAhouse, 1987.

Smith, David Lionel. "Chicago Poets, OBAC, and the Black Arts Movement." In The Black Columbiad, edited by Werner Sollors and Maria Diedrich. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Trice, Dawn Turner. "Influential Black Writers to Gather Again." Chicago Tribune (February 3, 2005).

david lionel smith (1996)
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