Madhubuti, Haki R. 1942–
Haki R. Madhubuti 1942–
Poet, publisher, educator
When Haki R. Madhubuti’s first and second volumes of poetry, Think Black! and Black Pride, were published by Dudley Randall’s Broadside Press in 1968, they ushered in a new era in black poetry and aesthetical concerns. Often associated with the “new poets” of the late 1960s—including Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, and Etheridge Knight—Madhubuti, as Richard Barksdale and Keneth Kinnamon have recognized, “set the style for other Broadside Press poets.”
The new poets, according to Barksdale and Kinnamon, “are committed in their poetry to the cause of political, social, and moral revolution, and all believe that poetry and other forms of artistic expression should serve the ends of revolution. All express a deep pride in Blackness, and all believe that poetry should be written from a racial perspective and should probe the full range of racial confrontation.” To accomplish these ends, Barksdale and Kinnamon have explained that the new poets use a “language of confrontation,” a kind of “ghetto folk speech” containing “irony, understatement, and satiric portraiture.” As one of the leading practitioners of the this art, Madhubuti “is one of the most representative voices of his time.”
Madhubuti was born Don Luther Lee in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1942 and grew up in Detroit, Michigan. He and his sister Jacqueline were raised by their mother, Maxine Graves Lee, after their father, James Lee, abandoned the family. Living in extreme poverty, Madhubuti’s family was often on welfare, wearing secondhand clothes and residing in apartments where the utilities were rarely connected.
He began working when he was ten to help his mother, who, as D. H. Melhem, author of Heroism in the New Black Poetry, has explained, “worked desperately to maintain her family.” Maxine Lee’s struggle to survive eventually led her to prostitution and alcoholism. She died at age 35, when Madhubuti was 16 years old and Jacqueline, herself the mother of a year old baby, was 14. Madhubuti recalled, “At her death, it was almost too hard to cry.”
Melhem has attributed Madhubuti’s early love of literature and Black secular music, as well as a heightened racial consciousness, to his mother’s influence. From the tragedy of his mother’s death, however, “he learned to see liquor, drugs, and religion as deliberate tools to control
Born Don Luther Lee, February 23, 1942, in Little Rock, AR; name legally changed to Haki R. Madhubuti, 1973; son of James L. and Maxine (Graves) Lee; married Johari Amini, 1963; married second wife, Safisha, 1974; children: (first marriage) pon; (second marriage) Laini Nzinga, Bomani Garvey, Akili Malcolm. Education: Attended Wilson Junior College, Roosevelt University, and University of Illinois, Chicago; Chicago City College, A.A., 1966, University of Iowa, M.F.A, 1984.
DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago, IL, apprentice curator, 1963-67; Montgomery Ward, Chicago, stock clerk, 1963-64; U.S. Post Office, Chicago, clerk, 1964-65; Speigels, Chicago, junior executive, 1965-66; Third World Press, Inc., Chicago, co-founder, publisher, editor, 1967—. Traveled and lectured throughout Africa, late 1960searly 1970s; University of Illinois, Chicago, lecturer, 1969-71; Chicago State University, associate professor of English, 1984—; Black Wholistic Retreat Foundation, director, 1984—.
Co-founder of Institute of Positive Education and New Concept Development Center. Past writer-ir-residence at Cornell University, Northeastern Illinois State College, Howard University, and Central State University. Military service : Served in U.S. Army, 1960-63.
Member: African Liberation Day Support Committee, Congress of African People, Organization of Black American Culture, Writers Workshop.
Awards: National Endowment for the Humanities grants, 1969 and 1982; Kuumba Workshop Black Liberation Award, 1973; Broadside Press Outstanding Poet’s Award, 1975; DuSable Museum Award for Excellence in Poetry, 1984; National Council of Teachers of English Award, 1988; Sidney R. Yates Arts Advocacy Award, 1988; African Heritage Studies Association citation, 1988.
Addresses: Office —Third World Press, 7822 South Dobson, Chicago, IL 60619.
populations,” explained Melhem. After his mother’s death, Madhubuti moved to Chicago to live with an aunt.
Madhubuti joined the army when he was 18. He explained, “This was the first time in my life I didn’t have to worry about where I was going to be the next day, or what I was going to eat. The Army was an education for me. I read a lot and mingled with whites for the first time.” He later told Melhem that he read an average of a book a day. In 1963 Madhubuti returned to Chicago and worked at various jobs. He was an apprentice curator at the DuSable Museum of African American History, a stock department clerk for Montgomery Ward, a post office clerk, and a junior executive for Spiegels.
In 1966 Madhubuti quit his job with Spiegels and returned to school in order to write poetry full time. He described this experience in the first poem he wrote, “Back Again, Home (confessions of an ex-executive).” The last stanza reads: “He resigned, wewonderwhy; /let his hair grow— a mustache too, / out of a job—broke and hungry, / friends are coming back—bring food, / not quiet now-trying to speak, / what did he say? / ’Back Again, / Black Again, / Home.’”
In 1967 Madhubuti had a thousand copies of Think Black!, his first collection of poetry, privately printed. In an article by Brent Staples, Madhubuti recalled, “I started selling at the B stop along 63rd [in Chicago]. I sold 600 copies in a week. It scared me a little—people were actually reading me.” The following year, after joining Gwendotyn Brooks’s workshop and meeting Dudley Randall and others, Randall’s Broadside Press published his second book of poetry, Black Pride, as well as an enlarged edition of Think Black!.
Think Black! has been called autobiographical in tone. In the introduction, Madhubuti states his belief that “black art will elevate and enlighten our people and lead them toward an awareness of self, i.e., their blackness.” Madhubuti also discusses his vision of the black poet as a “culture stabilizer: bringing back old values, and introducing new ones.” The source of Madhubuti’s poetic vision—blackness, Africanness, and the retrieval of old values-manifests itself in his poetic exploration of “all facets of black life: black pride, black identity, black beauty, black women, black heroes, black education, black loue, as well as black revolution,” claimed Catherine Daniels Hurst.
Madhubuti executes his vision by breaking with a Western poetic tradition and drawing on an aesthetics that is unique to black cultural life: street language and dialect, orality, and music. Gwendolyn Brooks has suggested that “around a black audience he puts warm healing arms,” and Paula Giddings has added that “he uses the language of the black communities. It is the language we spoke when we left the white schools and/or teachers—the language we spoke when we got home.”
Madhubuti’s second collection of poetry, Black Pride, is dedicated to “brothers Malcolm X, Langston Hughes and John Coltrane: All innovators in their own way.” Like Think Black!, Black Pride continues, as Marlene Mosher has purported, “to reject the European frame of reference that the American Establishment has foisted upon him and to establish a more positive (for him, a Black man) Afrikan frame of reference.”
Mosher has also asserted that, because of Madhubuti’s “anti-White, anti-Western bias, his first volumes of poetry, Think Biack! and Black Pride, were extremely negative works.” Eugene E. Miller has interjected an even more critical voice into the assessments of Madhubuti’s first volumes, calling his poems “obvious,” “flat,” and “literal” and questioning whether they tell us “something significant about the human condition and eternal verities.”
With the 1969 publication of Don’t Cry, Scream and the 1970 volume, We Walk the Way of the New World, Madhubuti shifted the focus of his poetry from what Mosher described as “anti-’(White) to ’pro-’(Black).” This better enabled him, Mosher suggested, “to draw from both his own inner strength and the combined strength of other struggling Black poets.” The title poem, dedicated to John Coltrane, the great tenor saxophonist, signals that this and Madhubuti’s subsequent volumes draw significantly on rhythms from a black American musical tradition. Melhem observed that beginning with Don’t Cry, Scream, Madhubuti’s poetry resembles “performance” with its “jazzy rhetoric of urgency.”
This observation is echoed by C. W. E. Bigsby, who noted in his book The Second Black Renaissance Madhubuti’s “increasing concern for incorporating jazz rhythms” and the styling of poems “for performance, the text lapsing into exultant screams and jazz scats.” Madhubuti himself has explained that “Black music is our most advanced form of Black art. In spite of the debilitating conditions of slavery and its aftermath, Black music endured and grew as a communicative language, as a sustaining spiritual force, as entertainment, and as a creative extension of our African selves…. To understand… art… which is uniquely black, we must start with the art form that has been least distorted, a form that has so far resisted being molded into a pure product of European-American culture.”
According to Mosher, Madhubuti’s fourth volume of poetry, We Walk the Way of the New World, “mark[s] the culmination of [Don L.] Lee’s poetic career.” She has further asserted that, “with this volume, Lee has become a ’revolutionary’ Black poet in the fullest sense of the term.” Mosher praised the title poem in particular, noting parallels between the poem’s movement and Madhubuti’s own “program of action” in which “Black people move from accommodation or inaction (‘run[ning] the danger-course’) through reaction (having ’[run] the dangercourse’) and finally into action in ‘the New World.’”
In 1971 Madhubuti published selected poems and five new poems in Directionscore, and in 1973 he published Book of Life, the first book to be published under his new Swahili name. Book of Life also marks a technical departure from his earlier works: Part II contains a long prose poem composed of 92 numbered stanzas which use standard English to convey values and principles that he learned from his research in African and African American culture.
Madhubuti’s interest in retrieving black cultural values and introducing new ones moved him in directions beyond the realm of poetic expression. He and other members of Gwendolyn Brooks’s 1967 workshop conceived the idea of founding Third World Press, Inc. to publish works of black writers, including Amiri Baraka and Brooks, and to fight against what Madhubuti called “brain mismanagement.”
Madhubuti continues as publisher and editor for Third World Press and for the social and literary journal Black Books Bulletin, which he founded in 1972. His interest in education led him and others to found the Institute of Positive Education in 1969 with Madhubuti as director. In 1972 the Institute established the New Concept Development Center, an elementary school created for inculcating many of the Institute’s “nation-building ideas.” In an interview with Donnarae MacCann, Madhubuti elaborated on his goals for educating black children, stressing the importance of steering them away from white “encultur-ation” and his desire to develop an understanding of their own cultural heritage: “My generation learned from that Western tradition, but we were not given the tradition that spoke best to our insides.”
He explained to Melhem that his involvement in institution-building was due largely to his belief that institutions were more enduring than “singular persons.” With the exception of the church, Madhubuti told Melhem, “strong institutions” are “missing among our people” and consequently, he envisions building institutions as “his job.” During the seventies, Madhubuti also turned his attention to writing social essays and literary criticism, including Dynamite Voices /(1971), From Plan to Planet (1973), and Enemies: The Clash of Races (1978).
In addition to pursuing his literary career, Madhubuti began traveling extensively throughout the late sixties and early seventies. In 1969 he participated in the First Pan-African Festival in Algiers, and in 1974 he attended the Sixth Pan-African Congress in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In 1976 the Senegalese government invited him to participate in Encounter: African World Alternatives, and three years later he went to Israel to learn more about a group called Original Hebrew Israelites (Black Jews). According to Melhem, Madhubuti “has also presented his work at more than a thousand colleges, universities, and community centers in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, South America and the United States.”
In 1973, influenced by his travels in Africa, Don L. Lee officially accepted the Swahili name Haki R. Madhubuti. “The name was given to me by people at the Institute [of Positive Education]—our Naming Committee,” explained Madhubuti. “People who wish to change their names submit reasons why, and a biographical sketch either written by them or by somebody else, and then generally the committee looks into the person’s background, and names are given according to how the name might fit the current personalities and what they feel the people are…. So the names have not only a spirit behind them, we feel, but also a literal meaning which, if understood properly, will give direction to those who take the name. And so I honestly try to live up to the name that was given to me, so that it would be in the context of both spirit and literal meaning.” Melhem reported that “’Haki R. Madhubuti translates from Swahili as justice, awakening, strong; also precise/accurate.”
The years 1984 and 1987 saw the publication of two more volumes of poetry, Earthquakes and Sun Rise Missions and Killing Memory, Seeking Ancestors. These two volumes are more international in scope than Madhubuti’s earlier poetry. Melhem found in these works an “increased awareness of the Third World and … the Pan-African relation to freedom struggles outside the United States.” She asserted that the “amalgamation of poetry and prose” that characterizes Earthquakes “tends to liberate both the style and the message.”
The final poem of Killing Memory, Seeking Ancestors, “Seeking Ancestors,” illustrates Madhubuti’s international awareness. Divided into five parts, the poem was written for the First Annual Egyptian Studies Conference in Los Angeles in 1984. Regarding this piece, Melhem observed, “The poet begins with an emotion-filled prophetic vision of the United States. Next, he identifies a proud African cultural heritage; he cites needs and recalls ancestry…. He concludes with a dual quest: for the lost records of a people, and for the rise of Black artists and intellectuals ’to / recall the memory / to / recall the tradition & meaning / to rename the bringers / genius.’”
Paula Giddings has also discovered a certain maturity in Madhubuti’s more recent poetry, noting in particular a movement from the “frequent use of ‘i’” in his first volumes to the “inevitable movement to you”, and “eventually to the consummation of the we and the us” in his later works: “WE’RE an Africanpeople / hard-softness burning black, /the earth’s magic color our veins. / an Africanpeople are we / burning blacker softly, softer.” As Madhubuti himself has said, “These are the stages which are a necessary part of the growth. You start by being very involved with yourself, and then you grow and become a part of the community. So your work moves from that of the personal to that of being an active part of the people. And then you move to a point where you feel that sense of oneness with the community.”
Since the late 1980s, Madhubuti has turned to an increased focus on the life of black men, writing Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous? Afrikan American Families in Transition, Essays in Discovery, Solutions, Hope (1990) and editing Confusion By Any Other Name: Essays Exploring the Negative Impact of the Blackman’s Guide to Understanding the Black Woman (1990) and Why L. A. Happened: Implications of the ’92 Los Angeles Rebellion (1993). These works explore what Madhubuti considers one of the major problems of black contemporary life—the absence of fathers and a strong famity life to nurture the younger generation.
Since his first publication in 1967, Haki R. Madhubuti has exerted a strong influence on American cultural life— writing poetry and prose, building institutions, publishing, lecturing, teaching, and performing his poetry throughout the world. During this time, his “confident hope and optimism for black people and what they will eventually accomplish,” as R. Roderick Palmer has phrased it, remains his primary motivation. This is perhaps most evident in Madhubuti’s “A Message All Blackpeople Can Dig (& a few negroes too),” where he writes “Well move together …/discover new stars: …/are moving, moving to return / this earth into the hands of / human beings.”
Think Black!, privately printed, 1967, Broadside Press, 1968.
Black Pride, Broadside Press, 1968.
Don’t Cry, Scream, Broadside Press, 1969, with introduction by Gwendolyn Brooks, Third World Press, 1992.
We Walk the Way of the New World, Broadside Press, 1970.
Directionscore: Selected and New Poems, Broadside Press, 1971.
Book of Life, Third World Press, 1973.
Earthquakes and Sun Rise Missions: Poetry and Essays of Black Renewal, 1973-1983, Third World Press, 1984.
Killing Memory, Seeking Ancestors, Lotus Press, 1987.
For Black People (and Negroes Too), Third World Press, 1968.
(Author of introduction) To Blackness: A Definition in Thought, Kansas City Black Writers Workshop, 1970.
Dynamite Voices I: Black Poets of the 1960’s, Broadside Press, 1971.
(Editor with P. L. Brown and F. Ward) To Gwen With Love, Johnson Publishing, 1971.
(Author of introduction) Marion Nicolas, Life Styles, Broadside Press, 1971.
The Need for an African Education (pamphlet), Institute of Positive Education, 1971.
Kwanzaa, Third World Press, 1972.
From Plan to Planet —Life Studies: The Need for Afrikan Minds and Institutions, Broadside Press, 1973, Third World Press, 1992.
(With Gwendolyn Brooks, Keorapetse Kgositsile, and Dudley Randall) A Capsule Course in Black Poetry Writing, Broadside Press, 1975.
(With Jawanza Kunjufu) Black People and the Coming Depression (pamphlet), Institute of Positive Education, 1975.
Enemies: The Clash of Races, Third World Press, 1978.
(Editor) Say That the River Turns: The Impact of Gwendolyn Brooks, Third World Press, 1987.
Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous? Afrikan American Families in Transition, Essays in Discovery, Solutions, Hope, Third World Press, 1990.
(Editor) Confusion By Any Other Name: Essays Exploring the Negative Impact of the Blackman’s Guide to Understanding the Black Woman, Third World Press, 1990.
(Editor) Why L.A. Happened: Implications of the ’92 Los Angeles Rebellion, Third World Press, 1993.
Claiming Earth: Race, Rage, Rape, Redemption; Blacks Seeking a Culture of Enlightened Empowerment, Third Worid Press, 1994.
Works published prior to 1973 where written under the name Don L. Lee.
Contributing editor, Black Scholar and First World; publisher, editor, contributor, Black Books Bulletin, 1972—; contributor to more than one hundred anthologies; contributor to numerous magazines and literary journals, including Black World, Negro Digest, Journal of Black Poetry, Essence, Journal of Black History, and Chicago Defender.
Recordings, released under the name Don L. Lee, include Rappin’& Readin’, Broadside Voices, 1970; and Rise, Vision, Coming (with the Afrikan Liberation Arts Ensemble), Institute of Positive Education, 1976.
Barksdale, Richard, and Keneth Kinnamon, editors, Black Writers of America: A Comprehensive Anthology, Macmillan, 1972.
Bigsby, C. W. E., The Black American Writer, Volume I: Poetry and Drama, Penguin, 1969.
Bigsby, C. W. E., The Second Black Renaissance: Essays in Black Literature, Greenwood Press, 1980.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 41: Afro-American Poets Since 1955, Gale, 1985.
Gibson, Donald B., editor, Modern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall, 1973.
Henderson, Stephen, Understanding the New Black Poetry: Black Speech and Black Music as Poetic References, Morrow, 1973.
Melhem, D. H., Heroism in the New Black Poetry, University Press of Kentucky, 1990.
Mosher, Marlene, New Directions from Don L. Lee, Exposition, 1975.
Vendler, Helen, Part of Nature, Part of Us, Howard University Press, 1980.
Williams, Sherley Anne, Give Birth to Brightness: A Thematic Study in Neo-Black Literature, Dial, 1972.
American Scholar, Spring 1973, p. 330.
Amistad, 1971, pp. 297-317.
Black Collegian, February-March 1971, pp. 33-34.
Black Enterprise, May 1993, p. 14.
Black World, November 1970, pp. 17-18; April 1971, pp. 84-87; June 1972, pp. 35-48.
Booklist, March 15, 1993, p. 1283.
Chicago Journal, February 27, 1980, p. 6.
Chicago Tribune, December 23, 1987, sec. 5, p. 3.
CLA Journal, September 1971, pp. 25-36.
College English, May 1973, pp. 1094-1102.
Dollars & Sense, January 1993, pp. 61-62.
Ebony, March 1969, p. 72.
Essence, June 1990, p. 44; July 1991, p. 92.
Journal of Black Studies, December 1979, pp. 139–66.
Journal of Negro History, April 1971, pp. 153–55.
Library Journal, November 15, 1990, p. 48.
National Observer, July 14, 1969, p. 28.
Negro Digest, June 1968, pp. 51–52.
New York Times Book Review, September 29, 1974, p. 3.
Poetry, February 1973, pp. 292–93.
Publishers Weekly, January 4, 1993, p. 22.
Washington Post, June 6, 1971, p. K5; December 26, 1971, p. Fl; March 28, 1993, p. 5.
—Mary Katherine Wainwright
Madhubuti, Haki R. 1942–
Madhubuti, Haki R. 1942–
PERSONAL: Born Donald Luther Lee; name legally changed, 1973; born February 23, 1942, in Little Rock, AR; son of Jimmy L. and Maxine (Graves) Lee; married Safisha L.; children: three. Education: Attended Wilson Junior College, Roosevelt University, and University of Illinois—Chicago Circle; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1984.
ADDRESSES: Office—Third World Press, 7524 South Cottage Grove, Chicago, IL 60619; Department of English, Speech, and Theatre, Chicago State University, 95th St. at King Dr., Chicago, IL 60628.
CAREER: DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago, IL, apprentice curator, 1963–67; founder, publisher, and editor, Third World Press, 1967–; Montgomery Ward, Chicago, stock department clerk, 1963–64; post office clerk in Chicago, 1964–65; Spiegels, Chicago, junior executive, 1965–66; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, writer-in-residence, 1968–69; Northeastern Illinois State College, Chicago, poet-in-residence, 1969–70; University of Illinois, Chicago, lecturer, 1969–71; Howard University, Washington, DC, writer-in-residence, 1970–78; Morgan State College, Baltimore, MD, 1972–73; Chicago State University, Chicago, professor of English, 1984–. Director of the Institute of Positive Education, Chicago, 1969–91. Cofounder, New Concept Development Center, 1971. Military service: U.S. Army, 1960–63.
MEMBER: African Liberation Day Support Committee (vice chairperson, 1971–73), Congress of African People (member of executive council, 1970–74), Organization of Black American Culture, Writers Workshop (founding member, 1967–75).
AWARDS, HONORS: Distinguished Writers Award, Middle Atlantic Writers Association, 1984; American Book Award, 1991; African-American Arts Alliance, 1993; fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
UNDER NAME DON L. LEE
Think Black, Broadside Press (Detroit, MI), 1967, enlarged edition, 1969.
Black Pride, Broadside Press (Detroit, MI), 1967.
For Black People (and Negroes Too), Third World Press (Chicago, IL), 1968.
Don't Cry, Scream (poems), Broadside Press (Detroit, MI), 1969.
We Walk the Way of the New World (poems), Broadside Press (Detroit, MI), 1970.
(Author of introduction) To Blackness: A Definition in Thought, Kansas City Black Writers Workshop, 1970.
Dynamite Voices I: Black Poets of the 1960s (essays), Broadside Press (Detroit, MI), 1971.
(Editor, with P.L. Brown and F. Ward) To Gwen with Love, Johnson Publishing (Chicago, IL), 1971.
Directionscore: Selected and New Poems, Broadside Press (Detroit, MI), 1971.
(Author of introduction) Marion Nicholas, Life Styles, Broadside Press (Detroit, MI), 1971.
The Need for an African Education (pamphlet), Institute of Positive Education (Chicago, IL), 1972.
UNDER NAME HAKI R. MADHUBUTI
Book of Life (poems), Broadside Press (Detroit, MI), 1973.
From Plan to Planet-Life Studies: The Need for Afrikan Minds and Institutions, Broadside Press (Detroit, MI), 1973.
(With Jawanza Kunjufu) Black People and the Coming Depression (pamphlet), Institute of Positive Education (Chicago, IL), 1975.
(Contributor) A Capsule Course in Black Poetry Writing, Broadside Press (Detroit, MI), 1975.
Enemies: The Clash of Races (essays), Third World Press (Chicago, IL), 1978.
Earthquakes and Sunrise Missions: Poetry and Essays of Black Renewal, 1973–1983 (poems), Third World Press (Chicago, IL), 1984.
Killing Memory, Seeking Ancestors (poems), Lotus, 1987.
Say That the River Turns: The Impact of Gwendolyn Brooks (poetry and prose), Third World Press (Chicago, IL), 1987.
Kwanzaa: A Progressive and Uplifting African American Holiday, Third World Press (Chicago, IL), 1987.
Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous?; Afrikan American Families in Transition: Essays in Discovery, Solution, and Hope, Third World Press (Chicago, IL), 1990.
(Editor) Confusion by Any Other Name: Essays Exploring the Negative Impact of the Blackman's Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman, Third World Press (Chicago, IL), 1992.
(Editor) Children of Africa, Third World Press (Chicago, IL), 1993.
Claiming Earth: Race, Rage, Rape, Redemption, Third World Press (Chicago, IL), 1994.
GroundWork: Selected Poems of Haki R. Madhubuti, foreword by Gwendolyn Brooks and introduction by Bakari Kitwana, Third World Press (Chicago, IL), 1996.
(Editor, with Karenga) Million Man March/Day of Absence: A Commemorative Anthology: Speeches, Commentary, Photography, Poetry, Illustrations, Documents, Third World Press (Chicago, IL), 1996.
Heartlove: Wedding and Love Poems, Third World Press (Chicago, IL), 1998.
(Editor, with Gwendolyn Mitchell) Releasing the Spirit, Third World Press (Chicago, IL), 1998.
Tough Notes: A Healing Call for Creating Exceptional Black Men: Affirmations, Meditations, Readings, and Strategies, Third World Press (Chicago, IL) 2002.
Run toward Fear: New Poems and a Poet's Handbook, Third World Press (Chicago, IL), 2004.
Also author of Back Again, Home, 1968, and One Sided Shootout, 1968; editor of Why L.A. Happened: Implications of the 1992 Los Angeles Rebellion, 1993. Contributor to more than one hundred anthologies, including Black Women Writers (1950–1980): A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans, Anchor-Doubleday, 1984, and Tapping Potential: English and Language Arts for the Black Learner, edited by Charlotte K. Brooks and others, Black Caucus of National Council of Teachers of English, 1985. Contributor to numerous magazines and literary journals, including Black World, Negro Digest, Journal of Black Poetry, Essence, Journal of Black History, Chicago Defender, and Black American Literature Forum. Founder and editor of Black Books Bulletin, 1972–; contributing editor, Black Scholar and First World.
SIDELIGHTS: "Poetry in my home was almost as strange as money," Haki R. Madhubuti, originally named Donald L. Lee, related in Dynamite Voices I: Black Poets of the 1960s. Abandoned by his father, and bereaved of his mother at the age of sixteen, Madhubuti made his living by maintaining two paper routes and cleaning a nearby bar. Poetry was scarce in his early life, he explained in the same source, because "what wasn't taught, but was consciously learned, in our early educational experience was that writing of any kind was something that Black people just didn't do." Nonetheless, he has become one of the best-known poets of the black arts movement of the 1960s, a respected and influential critic of poetry, and an activist dedicated to the cultural unity of black Americans. "In many ways," wrote Catherine Daniels Hurst in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Madhubuti "is one of the most representative voices of his time. Although most significant as a poet, his work as an essayist, critic, publisher, social activist, and educator has enabled him to go beyond the confines of poetry to the establishment of a black press and a school for black children."
The literature of the Harlem Renaissance—a literary movement of the 1920s and 1930s in which the works of many black artists became popular—was not deeply felt by the majority of America's black population, Madhubuti writes. "In the Sixties, however, Black Art in all its various forms began to flourish as never before: music, theater, art (painting, sculpture), films, prose (novel[s], essays), and poetry. The new and powerful voices of the Sixties came to light mainly because of the temper of the times." The writers of this turbulent generation who worked to preserve a cultural heritage distinct from white culture did not look to previous literary traditions—black or white—for inspiration. Says Madhubuti, "The major influences on the new Black poets were/are Black music, Black life style, Black churches, and their own Black contemporaries."
An Ebony article on the poet by David Llorens hailed him as "a lion of a poet who splits syllables, invents phrases, makes letters work as words, and gives rhythmic quality to verse that is never savage but often vicious and always reflecting a revolutionary black consciousness." As a result, his "lines rumble like a street gang on the page," remarked Liz Gant in a Black World review. Though Madhubuti believes, as he declares in Don't Cry, Scream, that "most, if not all black poetry will be political," he explains in Dynamite Voices I that it must do more than protest, since "mere 'protest' writing is generally a weak reaction to persons or events and often lacks the substance necessary to motivate and move people." Black poetry will be powerful, he says, if it is "a genuine reflection of [the poet] and his people," presenting "the beauty and joy" of the black experience as well as outrage against social and economic oppression.
However, some critics hear only the voice of protest in Madhubuti's work. Jascha Kessler, writing in a Poetry review, actually saw no poetry in Madhubuti's books. "Anger, bombast, raw hatred, strident, aggrieved, perhaps charismatically crude religious and political canting, propaganda and racist nonsense, yes…. [Madhubuti] is outside poetry somewhere, exhorting, hectoring, cursing, making a lot of noise." But the same elements that grate against the sensibilities of such critics stem from the poet's cultural objectives and are much better received by the poet's intended audience, said others. "He is not interested in modes of writing that aspire to elegance," wrote Gwendolyn Brooks in the introduction of Don't Cry, Scream. Madhubuti writes for and to blacks, and "the last thing these people crave is elegance. It is very hard to enchant, with elegant song, the ears of a fellow whose stomach is growling," she noted. Explained Hurst, "often he uses street language and the dialect of the uneducated Black community…. He uses unconventional abbreviations and strung-together words … in a visually rendered dialect designed to convey the stress, pitch, volume, texture, resonance, and the intensity of the black speaking voice. By these and other means, Madhubuti intends to engage the active participation of a black audience accustomed to the oral tradition of storytelling and song."
Poems in Don't Cry, Scream and We Walk the Way of the New World show the activist-poet's increasing incorporation of jazz into his works. In fact, the title poem of Don't Cry, Scream, believed Hurst, "should be dedicated to that consummate musician, John Coltrane, whose untimely death left many of his admirers in deep mourning. In this poem (which begs to be read out loud as only the poet himself can do it), Madhubuti strains to duplicate the virtuoso high notes of Coltrane's instrumental sound." This link to music is significant for the black writer: Whereas white Americans preserve themselves or their legacy through literature, black Americans have done so in music, particularly in the blues form. Madhubuti elaborates in Dynamite Voices I: "Black music is our most advanced form of Black art. In spite of the debilitating conditions of slavery and its aftermath, Black music endured and grew as a communicative language, as a sustaining spiritual force, as entertainment, and as a creative extension of our African selves. It was one of the few mediums of expression open to Black people that was virtually free of interferences…. To understand … art … which is uniquely Black, we must start with the art form that has been least distorted, a form that has so far resisted being molded into a pure product of European-American culture." Numerous references to black musicians and lines that imitate the sounds of black music connect Madhubuti's poetry to that tradition and extend its life as well.
Madhubuti's poetic voice softened somewhat during the 1970s, during which time he directed his energies to the writing of political essays ("From Plan to Planet-Life Studies: The Need for Afrikan Minds and Institutions" and "Enemies: The Clash of Races"). In addition, he contributed to the establishment of a black aesthetic for new writers through critical essays and reviews. Dynamite Voices I, for instance, "has become one of the major contemporary scholarly resources for black poetry," noted Hurst. Fulfilling the role of "cultural stabilizer," he also gave himself to the construction of institutions that promote the cultural independence and education of his people. In a fight against "brain mismanagement" in America, he founded the Third World Press in 1967 to encourage literacy and the Institute of Positive Education in 1969 "to provide educational and communication services to a community struggling to assert its identity amidst powerful, negative forces," he told Donnarae MacCann for an interview published in Interracial Books for Children Bulletin.
In the same interview, he defines the publishing goals of the Third World Press, which he founded in 1967: "We look for writers who continue to critically assess the ambivalence of being Black in America…. What we are trying to do is to service the great majority of Black people, those who do not have a voice, who have not made it. Black themes over the past years have moved from reaction and rage to contemplative assessments of today's problems to a kind of visionary look at the world," a vision that includes not just blacks, but all people. But the development of the black community remains its main focus, he told David Streitfield for a Washington Post article. "There's just so much negative material out there, and so little that helps. That's not to say we don't publish material that is critical, but it has to be constructive." As Streitfield reports, "Third World's greatest success has been with … Chancellor Williams' Destruction of Black Civilization, which has gone through 16 printings." Other articles also commended the press for breaking even for the first time in nineteen years in 1987.
When reviewing Tough Notes: A Healing Call for Creating Exceptional Black Men: Affirmations, Meditations, Readings, and Strategies, published in 2002, for the Progressive, Bakari Kitwana began: "The divide between the hip-hop generation (black people born between 1965 and 1984) and the older civil rights/Black Power generation (black baby boomers) is steadily widening. It is a divide that is as vast as the one exhibited inside white America in the 1960s…. The older generation usually maintains that remaining in leadership for four decades without nurturing a new generation of leadership is not a problem. The younger generation, for its part, is quick to say that the older generation failed us, while benefiting every day from the struggles of the '50s and '60s." Kitwana believed that an excellent place for the two generations to begin an attempt to understand each other is in Tough Notes. Madhubuti explains in his book that the most urgent reason he wrote it was "my need to personally respond to the hundreds of letters, notes, and telephone calls I received over the years from prisoners—mainly young men seeking guidance and a kind word." In the heavily autobiographical work, he touches on subjects as wide ranging as history and identity to education to parenting in an effort to help guide the younger generation through the abyss of obstacles faced by them. "Young progressives, activists, institution-builders, intellectuals, writers, and everyday people will find tons of useful information in this blend of personal narrative and advice," commented Kitwana.
Summing up the importance of Madhubuti's work, Hurst stated that, except for Imamu Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Madhubuti is the most widely emulated black poet of all time, and his enormous influence continues to grow. "His books have sold more than a million copies, without benefit of a national distributor. Perhaps Madhubuti will even succeed in helping to establish some lasting institutions in education and in the publishing world. Whether he does or not, he has already secured a place for himself in American literature. He is among the foremost anthologized contemporary revolutionary poets, and he has played a significant role in stimulating other young black talent."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 2, 1974; Volume 6, 1976.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, 1980; Volume 41: Afro-American Poets since 1955, 1985.
Madhubuti, Haki R., Don't Cry, Scream, Broadside Press (Detroit, MI), 1969.
Madhubuti, Haki R., Dynamite Voices I: Black Poets of the 1960s, Broadside Press (Detroit, MI), 1971.
Madhubuti, Haki R., Tough Notes: A Healing Call for Creating Exceptional Black Men: Affirmations, Meditations, Readings, and Strategies, Third World Press (Chicago, IL) 2002.
Vendler, Helen, Part of Nature, Part of Us, Howard University Press (Washington, DC), 1980.
Black Collegian, February-March, 1971; September-October, 1974.
Black World, April, 1971; June, 1972; January, 1974.
Chicago Sun Times, December 11, 1987.
Chicago Tribune, December 23, 1987.
Ebony, March, 1969, David Llorens.
Emerge, May, 1995; April, 1996; May, 1996.
Essence, June, 1990, p. 44; July, 1991, pp. 92-94.
Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, Volume 17, number 2, 1986.
Jet, June 27, 1974.
Journal of Negro History, April, 1971.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 25, 1990.
National Observer, July 14, 1969.
Negro Digest, December, 1969.
New Lady, July-August, 1971.
New York Times, December 13, 1987.
New York Times Book Review, September 29, 1974.
Poetry, February, 1973, Jascha Kessler.
Progressive, July, 2001, Bakari Kitwana, review of Tough Notes: A Healing Call for Creating Exceptional Black Men: Affirmations, Meditations, Readings, and Strategies, p. 41.
Publishers Weekly, January 20, 1992, p. 29; December, 1992, pp. 24-25.
Washington Post, June 6, 1971; January 17, 1988.
Madhubuti, Haki R. (Lee, Don L.)
Madhubuti, Haki R. (Lee, Don L.)
February 23, 1942
Born Don L. Lee in Little Rock, Arkansas, poet and essayist Haki Madhubuti was raised in Detroit, Michigan. His father deserted the family when Madhubuti was very young, and his mother died when he was sixteen. An unstable family life created hardship and forced Madhubuti to seek employment and overall self-reliance at an early age. Of the place of poetry in his childhood, Madhubuti commented that "poetry in my home was almost as strange as money."
In the late 1950s Madhubuti attended a vocational high school in Chicago. He joined the U.S. Army for three years beginning in 1960. From 1963 to 1967, while an apprentice curator at the DuSable Museum of African History, Madhubuti held jobs as a clerk in department stores and at the U.S. post office. During these years he also worked toward his associate degree at Chicago City College. Two decades later he received a master of fine arts from the University of Iowa.
With the publication of Think Black! (1967), Black Pride (1968), and Don't Cry, Scream (1969), Madhubuti quickly established himself as a leading poetic voice among his generation of black artists in America. His poetry generated critical acclaim, particularly among African-American commentators associated with the maturing Black Arts movement of the 1960s and early 1970s (the first major black artistic movement since the Harlem Renaissance).
His early literary criticism, including in Dynamite Voices (1971), was one of the first overviews of the new black poetry of the 1960s. In this volume Madhubuti insists on the essential connection between the African-American experience and black art and concludes with a call to black nation building. In his own poetry Madhubuti makes extensive use of black cultural forms, such as street talk and jazz music. His poetry also draws its inspiration from the work of Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), the most influential black arts practitioner of the 1960s.
Judging simply by sales within the black community, no black poet in the black arts movement was more popular than Madhubuti. In the last few years of the 1960s, for instance, Madhubuti's slim paperbound books of poetry—each issued by the black publishing house Broadside Press—sold a remarkable one hundred thousand copies each without the benefit of a national distributor. His popularity and artistic promise made him a frequent writer-in-residence during this period at American universities such as Cornell and Howard.
In 1973 the poet rejected his "slave name" by changing it from Don L. Lee to the Swahili name Haki R. Madhubuti (which means "precise justice"). In the same year he published two collections, From Plan to Planet and Book of Life. These volumes of essays and poetry illustrate his commitment to black cultural nationalism, a philosophy that combines political activism with cultural preservation in the drive toward racial awareness and black unity.
Although his artistic production declined during the mid- to late 1970s, the publication of another volume of essays and poetry, Earthquakes and Sun Rise Missions (1984), renewed Madhubuti's advocacy of black nationalism. The poet's most recent collection, Killing Memory, Seeking Ancestors (1987), speaks to the reader who loves and understands black vernacular.
Like his literary compatriots in the black arts movement, Madhubuti attempts to create an artistic form and content that best represents the black community, speaks to their needs, and promotes cultural institutions that serve the coming of the black nation. He eschews Western notions of individualism in favor of collective self-sufficiency among blacks within the United States and throughout the world.
In 1978, when the author published Enemies: The Clash of the Races —a scathing critique of racism within white left as well as right political circles—Madhubuti was (what he calls) "whitelisted" and, as a result, lost anticipated income. Such experiences reinforced his commitment to black self-reliance. As founding editor of Third World Press and a founding member of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC) Writers Workshop (which includes black literary figures such as Gwendolyn Brooks and Carolyn Rodgers), Madhubuti continues to be active in Chicago-based organizations. He is also cofounder and director of the Institute of Positive Education in Chicago, an organization committed to black nation building through independent black institutions in areas such as education and publishing.
In 1990 Madhubuti published Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous? The Afrikan American Family in Transition, which addressed issues raised by the author's grass-roots activism over the previous quarter century. Essays in this collection speak specifically to black men, offering analyses and guidance on topics ranging from fatherhood to AIDS. The first printing of the book (7,500 copies) sold out within a month and reconfirmed Madhubuti's popularity within a sizable portion of the black literary community in America and elsewhere.
Madhubuti teaches at Chicago State University. He published Tough Notes: A Healing Call for Creating Exceptional Black Men in 2002, and Run Toward Fear in 2004.
"Haki R. Madhubuti (Don L. Lee)." In The Black Aesthetic Movement. Vol. 8 of the Dictionary of Literary Biography Documentary Series. Detroit: Gale, 1991, pp. 168–225.
Llorens, David. "Black Don Lee." Ebony (March 1969): 72–78, 80.
Melhem, D. H. "Interview with Haki R. Madhubuti." In Heroism in the New Black Poetry. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990, pp. 101–130.
Turner, Darwin T. Afterword to Earthquakes and Sun Rise Missions, by Haki R. Madhubuti. Chicago: Third World Press, 1984, pp. 181–189.
West, Hollie I. "The Poetry of Black Experience." Washington Post, April 1971, pp. H1, H6.
jeffrey louis decker (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005