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Saturday, September 3, 2016



             Finally. Kalamu ya Salaam's The Magic of Juju: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  (Chicago: Third World Press, 2016), is in print, twenty years after Salaam wrote "The Magic of Juju: An Appreciation of the Sixties Black Arts Movement," an essay of 73 pages.  Finally, we have a work that can serve as a textbook in secondary and college classrooms as well as a reference book for adjusting parameters of investigation.  Despite the unquestionable merits of  Tony Bolden's Afro-Blue: Improvisations in African American Poetry and Culture (2004), James Edward Smethurst's The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s (2005), New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement (2006) edited by Lisa Gail Collins and Margo Natalie Crawford, The Black Arts Enterprise and the Production of African American Poetry (2014) by Howard Rambsy II, and SOS --Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement Reader (2014) edited by John H. Bracey Jr., Sonia Sanchez, and James Smethurst, there remains the unquestionable necessity of revisiting the Black Arts Movement (c. 1960-1975) with the blueprint for appreciation provided by The Magic of Juju.  Appreciation provokes inquiry that is consonant with the kaleidoscopic uncertainties of the 21st century.

            An appreciation can simultaneously  be a critique, a judgment, and  a recognition. The Magic of Juju is a quite valuable appreciation, especially when one considers Salaam's authority and his prolific efforts to promote critical thinking about life and cultures. In What Is Life?: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self (Chicago: Third World Press, 1994), Salaam wrote of himself: "Simply put, I'm an African American man trying hard to live up to my fullest potential --  to do my best to contribute to the empowerment of my people and the betterment and beautification of the whole world  -- in my own space and time" (ii).  This book is an installment of his living up to his chosen mission and of assessing a historical process that was (and still is) strategic, aesthetic, and political.  As a thinker who is secure and brilliant, Salaam has no need to endlessly announce that he is a public intellectual in search of media attention.  He is free to reject that peculiar  academic posture.  For that reason and many others, he is one of my most valued friends, one with whom I find the production of ideas for pre-future social benefits to be essential.  His 1993 argument in "African American Cultural Empowerment: A Struggle to Identify and Institutionalize Ourselves as a People," which Julius E. Thompson referenced in Dudley Randall, Broadside Press, and the Black Arts Movement in Detroit, 1960-1995 (McFarland 1999) retains its pre-future validity as a cognitive option that is magnified in The Magic of Juju.

            Thus, this brief comment is objectively subjective, very comfortable with irony and paradox.  I offer a moral/ethical challenge to college and university  scholars and teachers who may devalue common sense in a race to "interrogate" the Black Arts Movement.  I invite them to prove that they are people who possess integrity (a rare virtue in the 21st century) by using The Magic of Juju as a required  textbook in the courses they teach, particularly in courses devoted to American and African American literatures.  In the substantial amount of critical scholarship focused on literature and cultures, excessive attention has been given to "the body" and its representations and performances. Salaam's book will enable teachers and students   to reclaim the fact that they have minds as well as bodies and to use those priceless minds as instruments for critical thinking ( a rare exercise in the post-whatever conditions that afflict the American body politic). In short, his book is an opportunity to return to asking drylongso questions and engaging the vernacular motions of a cultural movement that is not yet dead. That is the opportunity a few people in my generation will grab, but it is not the opportunity Salaam champions. "The Magic of Juju," he informed Margo Crawford, "is not about returning to the sixties and seventies.  The Magic of Juju is my contribution to the contemporary generation who must and, I believe, who will make their own decisions in dealing with their own realities and in attempting to make real their own visions.  In that regard, The Magic of Juju is an attempt to provide information and evidence for this current generation to make sense of their history, present and future" (306).

            After reading the first manuscript of "The Magic of Juju" essay, I wrote to Salaam on 14 April 1996:

After hearing from a young scholar at CLA that Ray Durem's poem "A decoration for the President" splintered Umbra, I am more deeply convinced the critics need your essay on BAM. If you have time for dark laughter, check out Gates on Albert Murray in the April 8, 1996 issue of New Yorker.  Gates thinks there was a "so-called Black Arts Movement."

  • p. 3 --For Wright, black power had to be actualized in "the militarization of African life" in order to "project the African immediately into the twentieth century."  The Black Panthers, then, moved closest to such a realization.
  • p. 5  Br. Dubois > Dr. DuBois?
  • p. 7 New Afrikan > New Afrika
  • p. 8  I agree with your conclusion re: commercialization and commodification of post-modern literary culture.  Radicalization has been reduced to aesthetic/critical gestures, insuring to some extent than an abyss between intellectual contests and material political struggles remains.  Nevertheless, BAM's elders and heir continue to radicalize at some distance from the centers of post-whateverness.
  • pp. 9-12 --questions on items #1 and #6 ----The dichotomy between the religious and the secular was blurred, I think.  Perhaps black religiosity was displaced by black spirituality. In your remarks in #6 on technology you may want to mention in passing how media assisted in a new sound (ing) as you do in your poetry essay. [[ I was referring to unpublished book-length "The Sound (ing) of Black Poetry: A Study Guide to the Theory and History of Black Poetry" ]] You are on target with emphasis on the performative. Critics who would "freeze" BAMS into manageable form have to be warned that the historic performances were not determined by academic formulations.
  • pp. 18-19 --check print merge error; you repeat with a variation the paragraph about On Guard For Freedom
  • p. 21 --Black Arts Repertory  > Black Arts Repertory
  • pp. 28-32 --refer readers to your essay on Sound(ing) and to buttress your point about Baraka, Giovanni, Sanchez, and Madhubuti as the defining voices, you need to name in some way what you think the parameters of execution, performance, and theme/content were, i.e. do a verbal drawing of the paradigm.
  • pp. 32-34 ---among the conferences that BAM ideas directly or sidewise were the Black Studies Conferences at Jackson State in 1972 (?) ---where I recall Henderson outline much of his music/speech theory and Sonia Sanchez had a most interesting exchange about Black English with Nick Aaron Ford -- and the Black Studies Conferences that Richard Long sponsored at Atlanta University (1969?-1973/75?)
  • p. 34 --You may need to check with E. Ethelbert Miller about where (physically) Henderson's extensive videotapes from the conferences and IAH are.
  • It is nice that BAM participants did not have to wait for Foucault and other Frenchmen to tell them what power was; as French as they got was Lumumba, Fanon, and their own brand of negritude.
  • Black Fire (1968) needs to be credited as one of the major collection to include BAM theory along with Addison Gayle's Black Expressions.  Anyone who was serious trying to theorize in the 1970s had to deal with these texts.  I suggest mentioning the seminal importance of Black Fire in both the theory and anthology sections.
  • p. 56 --virulently sexism  > virulently sexist
  • BAM's legacy ---very good closure for this piece
  • a kind of afterthought:  where do you put Bob Kaufman and Ted Joans with regard to BAM?  And when I think of style, the portion of BAM you did not deal with is the visual arts and the reformation of black images and affirmation of color-sense.  So you should refer readers to your interview with John Scott.

run document through sell-check; there are typos I did not note

            After 1996,  Salaam incorporated a few of my suggestions and rejected those that did not dovetail with his vision.  He expanded the scope of the essay; he  refined and deepened his thinking about what deserved  recognition and critique. The main body of the book was completed in 1999, and it is now enhanced by Salaam's preface, a study guide developed by Jiton Davidson, photographs, documents, and historical archives compiled by Eugene B. Redmond, and "The Wave of Black Aesthetics: The Deep Rivers of the Black Arts Movement: A Dialogue between Kalamu Ya Salaam and Margo Natalie Crawford."  The Magic of Juju is a textual beacon for a future of thought and action.

            It is reassuring to know The Magic of Juju will make its début at the BAM Conference at Dillard University, September 9-11, 2016, and provide a Black South/New Orleans catalyst for newer directions.  It is pleasant to imagine that participants who have agendas that scamper on tangents will be given an opportunity to realign their thinking by reading and listening to Kalamu ya Salaam.  Better yet, I imagine the book will collaborate with other documents that argue for holding fast to sanity and producing ethical art and criticism  in the chaotic Age of Trump/Clinton.  The realities of now are mimetic of those pre-1960 realities that warranted the birth of the Black Arts Movement.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.     September 3, 2016

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