My original intention for returning to this blog was to point you to my interview at The Rumpus and to tell you that my first book, COMPREHENDING FOREVER, will soon be available through Willow Books.
Excited and grateful as I am, both of these facts are overshadowed by, and tied to, the transition earlier today of Amiri Baraka. I could say there was something that made me point to Amiri during my talk with Rochelle Spencer, but the truth is, I've always been laboring in his giant shadow--not since I first started writing, but the moment I decided to claim a political identity for myself as a writer. Really, the moment I decided on a life as a literary activist for Latino/a writers.
Doubtless, I owe debts to many: Martín Espada, Willie Perdomo, my friends and colleagues at Acentos and louderARTS, Aracelis Girmay, and so many others. My own work is laid out to do for the next several decades (God willing), and I'll be at it until I can no longer draw breath.
I went to Amiri's Poetry Foundation biography and was blown away by their detailed career retrospective on him. When you think of writers like Sekou Sundiata, Toni Cade Bambara, Lucille Clifton, Jayne Cortez, or June Jordan, of course you consider the length and breadth of their literary output, and you damn near genuflect at their feet when you meet them. But at their death, you are confronted--literally confronted--with their bibliographies, and you realize that the word "prolific" is thrown around way too much to describe your contemporaries.
Amiri's bibliography and CV reads like history. It is. The Black Arts Movement was nourished at his hand and the hands of his colleagues. He wrote Blues People. He wrote Dutchman. He wrote Preface To a Twenty Volume Suicide Note. So many plays. So many essays. And these are only the things we have archived. As Brian Gilmore reminds me, Baraka was that dude who would come to a reading with some joint he literally stapled together THAT DAY. Not some old shit, either--brand new essays or poems that he wanted you, that day, to read and absorb and reckon with. The man wrote non-stop for decades. I can't even say that. That's a goal I'd like to attain. One to strive for between tweets, I suppose.
Which reminds me. Amiri Baraka was social media before there was an INTERNET. His words were nothing but available...if you really wanted to hear them. Though he was sought after, no one needed to publish him. He would publish himself, get seen himself, do readings himself. And travel. And speak. And send you emails. And post diatribes on websites with complicated URL's.
And he'd ask you: "Where's your book?" Every single time he saw you.
Truly. Every time, even if he didn't remember my name. I'd tell him who I was, and what I do, and what I hope. And the question was the same: "Where's your book?"
My book is coming, Baba Baraka. I had hoped to see you in person to give you a copy after all these years, but I guess I'll have to leave that to the universe and just know you got it.
What's my debt to Amiri? What's ours? If you're a writer of color in this country, and you feel empowered to speak truth to power in ways that make you very unpopular, if you speak the hard truths without shame, and if you feel the mission is important enough to staple together your own damn books and make them available without the permission of the dominant culture, then you carry some of Amiri's fire with you, too. If you're a writer of color who carries forward the utilitarian, afrocentric view of art--that it's meant to DO things, not simply BE for its own sake--then you carry with you the Black Arts, the Nuyorican, the Chicano, the Queer lit, the Feminist lit. In short, when you write with purpose for your people, unapologetically, and when you choose to be a part of your history and your survival, and when you choose to document it, then you are writing in the tradition of Amiri Baraka, now our ancestor.
Where's your book?