4 Phases of Amiri Baraka’s Literary Career

Baraka’s works have shown many stages of self-revelation and they are nothing but the outcome of his self conscious sensibility. Baraka’s plays are written chronologically in four periods. They are: The ‘Beat Period’ (1957-1962), The ‘Transitional Period’ (1963-1965), The ‘Black Nationalist Period’ (1965-1974) and The ‘Third World Marxist Period’ (1974 – 2014).

Beat Period’ (1957-1962)

During the Beat Period, he was greatly influenced by the white avant-garde like Charles Olson, 0′ Hara, and Ginsberg. He wrote poems, which were full of imagery and spontaneous humour. Historical events like The Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black political upsurge of the late 1960s also influenced him. These events or incidents changed attitude toward race and art. He developed the consciousness of his identity as a Black, rather a Negro, and gradually rejected his earlier perception of life and his existence. The early plays of Baraka include Dutchman, The Slave, The Baptism and The Toilet. Each play is a highly effective analysis of American society with immense radical value from the point of view of Black Americans’ social and cultural consciousness. Dutchman and The Baptism are symbolic and allegorical plays whereas The Slave and The Toilet are quite realistic and reactionary. These plays enact tensions or conflicts prevailing among the Black Americans.

The ‘Transitional Period’ (1963-1965)

In the Transitional period, his writings became expressions of his racial and political consciousness. They expressed the theme of Blackness and politicization of art by Baraka. During this phase he started showing interest in Black Nationalism and gradually became a Black Nationalist. His sense of hatred for the whites knew no bound.

The ‘Black Nationalist Period’ (1965-1974)

The assassination of Malcolm X hurt him so intensely that he wanted the death of the white race. Also in this period, he tried to formulate the Black aesthetics in which he tried to express his American experience in forms that spring from his own unique culture and that his art must be evaluated by standards that grow out of his own culture.

The ‘Third World Marxist Period’ (1974 – 2014)

In the Third World Marxist Period, Baraka rejected Black Nationalism as racist and became a Third World Socialist. Having struggled as a Nationalist, he came to the state of a Marxist. His socialist art is addressed to the Black community, which he believes as the greatest revolutionary potential in America. Thus Baraka quickly earned the respect of artists of all mediums, particularly the writers of the so called Beatnik movement. He could emerge as a personality and leader and transformed himself from a Beat poet to “father of the Black Arts Movement”.

The essence of Amiri Baraka’s writings in these various phases can be summed up in his own words as he has put in the Preface to The Le Roi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader edited by William J. Harris, Baraka writes –

My writing reflects my own growth and expansion, and at the same time the society in which I have existed throughout this longish confrontation. Whether it is politics, music, literature, or the origins of language, there is a historical and time/place/condition reference that will always try to explain exactly whyI was saying both how and for what (Harris, xvii).

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