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James Smethurst

Amiri Baraka was a highly productive writer who has written poetry, drama, novels, Jazz operas, and nonfiction. He also played a crucial role as an organizer, editor, and promoter of the avant-garde literary movements of the 1950s and early 1960s and the Black Arts Movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Often controversial, Baraka became the center of a political firestorm in his home state of New Jersey in 2003 when a poem he had written was criticized as anti-Semitic.

Born Everett Leroy (later LeRoi) Jones in Newark, New Jersey, Baraka attended Newark public schools and studied chemistry at Howard University in Washington, D.C., before turning to literature and philosophy. In 1954 he left Howard and joined the United States Air Force. He became increasingly interested in literature, immersing himself in the work of American poet Ezra Pound, Irish novelist James Joyce and other modern ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

poet, playwright, educator, and activist, was born Everett Leroy Jones in Newark, New Jersey, the eldest of two children to Coyette Leroy Jones, a postal supervisor, and Anna Lois Russ, a social worker. Jones's lineage included teachers, preachers, and shop owners who elevated his family into Newark's modest, though ambitious, black middle class. His own neighborhood was black, but the Newark of Jones's youth was mostly white and largely Italian. He felt isolated and embattled at McKinley Junior High and Barringer High School, yet he excelled in his studies, played the trumpet, ran track, and wrote comic strips.

Graduating from high school with honors at age fifteen, Jones entered the Newark branch of Rutgers University on a science scholarship. In 1952 after his first year he transferred to Howard University hoping to find a sense of purpose at a black college that had ...

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Magda Romanska

playwright, poet, writer, and one of the leaders of the black revolt of the 1960s. Imamu Amiri Baraka was born Everett Leroy Jones during the Great Depression in Newark, New Jersey. He is credited as one of the most outspoken advocates of a black cultural and political revival in the 1960s. He attended Barringer High School and Rutgers University, where he pursued philosophy and religious studies, before enrolling in Howard University in Washington, D.C. It was then that he changed his name to LeRoi Jones. Baraka graduated from Howard University in 1953, and in 1954 he joined the U S Air Force in which he served for three years When an anonymous tipster suggested that he was a communist sympathizer Baraka s belongings were searched for subversive literature Because some of his books were deemed socialist Baraka was discharged from the military Shortly thereafter he ...

Article

Charles L. James

Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the first child of a Roman Catholic bricklayer and a Methodist schoolteacher, Arna Wendell Bontemps grew up in California and graduated from Pacific Union College. After college he accepted a teaching position in Harlem at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, and in 1926 and 1927 won first prizes on three separate occasions in contests with other “New Negro” poets. The same years marked his marriage to Alberta Johnson and the start of a family of six children.

Bontemps's first effort at a novel (Chariot in the Cloud, 1929), a bildungsroman set in southern California, never found a publisher, but by mid-1931, as his teaching position in New York City ended, Harcourt accepted God Sends Sunday (1931 his novel about the rise and notoriety of Little Augie This tiny black jockey of the 1890s whose period of great luck ...

Article

Arna Bontemps was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, to parents of Creole descent who eventually converted to the Seventh-Day Adventist faith. While Arna was young, the Bontemps family moved to Los Angeles, California. The childhood loss of his mother and the stern upbringing by his pragmatic father affected him deeply. His father hoped, mistakenly, that his son would make the family trade of masonry his life's work. Educated at Seventh-Day Adventist institutions, Bontemps graduated from Pacific Union College in 1923. In 1924 he took a teaching job at the Harlem Academy in New York City.

Literary notice and success came early to Bontemps. His creativity and social conscience were excited by the cultural vitality he found in New York in the 1920s. By 1926 his poetry had appeared in two of the most important journals of the period, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ...

Article

Dennis Gouws

teacher, model, dramatist, and collector of African American artifacts, was born in London to a West Indian mother and a British father, of whom little is known. It is believed that his mother was black and his father was white. Nor is it known when Jackman came to the United States, but he was raised in Harlem, New York, and graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School, where he befriended the poet Countée Cullen. Jackman earned a BA degree from New York University in 1923 and an MA from Columbia University in 1927. For more than three decades he taught social studies in the New York Public Schools.

Aptly described as the non writer whom everyone adored Jackman inspired tributes from those prominent Harlem Renaissance personalities with whom he socialized Griffin 494 Cullen for example dedicated an early version of his poem Advice to Youth ...

Article

Nita N. Kumar

poet, essayist, playwright, music critic, editor, and university teacher. Lawrence Paul Neal was one of the most influential thinkers—an activist-philosopher—of the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s, and along with LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), envisioned and articulated the spirit of the movement, which he defined as “the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept.” Larry was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to Woodie and Maggie Neal and was the oldest of the five sons. While he was still young, the family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he attended Roman Catholic High School, and went on to receive his BA in English and history from Lincoln University (1961), and MA from the University of Pennsylvania (1963), where he took graduate courses in folklore.

Among Neal's most notable contributions are his radical essay, “The Black Arts Movement,” and the book Black Fire An Anthology of ...

Article

Jennifer Burton

and important figure in the 1960s black arts movement. Eugene Redmond was born 1 December 1937 in St. Louis, Missouri. Orphaned at age nine, he was raised by his grandmother and “neighborhood fathers,” made up of members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and friends of his older brother. During high school he worked on the newspaper and yearbook, performed in school and church plays, and composed for neighborhood singing groups.

From 1958 to 1961Redmond served as a U.S. Marine in the Far East, acquiring a speaking knowledge of Japanese. He was an associate editor of the East St. Louis Beacon from 1961 to 1962. In 1963 Redmond co-founded a weekly paper in East St. Louis, the Monitor, working at different times as a contributing editor, executive editor, and editorial page editor.

At Southern Illinois University he was the first African American student editor of the university ...

Article

David F. Smydra

writer, was born Ishmael Scott Reed in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Thelma Coleman, a saleswoman. Coleman never married Reed's natural father, Henry Lenoir, a fund-raiser for the YMCA, but before 1943 she married an-autoworker, Bennie Reed, whose surname Ishmael-received. (Ishmael has seven half siblings.) Coleman moved with her son Ishmael to Buffalo, New York, in 1942, where Reed attended two different high schools before graduating in 1956. His mother's memoir Black Girl From Tannery Flats detailed her life growing up in segregated Chattanooga Tennessee during the 1930s, and being part of the 1940s migration to the north.

Reed made his initial forays into journalism by writing a jazz column in a local black newspaper, the Empire Star while still a teenager He began his college studies in night school at the University of Buffalo called Millard Fillmore College but ascended to the more rigorous ...

Article

A. B. Christa Schwarz

writer and editor. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Wallace Thurman had to cover a lot of ground before he arrived in New York City in 1925, attracted by the first signs of a genuine cultural movement in Harlem. Growing up in a dysfunctional family—his father Oscar, from Los Angeles, had left Thurman's mother Beulah shortly after the birth of their son, and Thurman's mother, remarrying several times, frequently changed residences—Thurman's only stable reference point was his maternal grandmother, Emma Jackson, in Salt Lake City. Suffering from health problems, Thurman eventually finished high school in Salt Lake City. After a two-year enrollment as a pre-med student at the University of Utah, he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a postal clerk and took journalism classes at the University of Southern California before entering on his brief but prolific career on the East Coast.

Thurman who ...