Amiri Baraka – The Revolutionary Theater (1969)


“The writer and activist LeRoi Jones (who would later be known as Amiri Baraka) speaks here on February 17, 1965, four days before the assassination of Malcolm X, an event that catapulted him from a charismatic Greenwich Village maverick into a radicalized black nationalist in Harlem. We hear the writer at a pivotal time for himself, and the country at large. By the end of 1965, Baraka will have divorced his wife, Hettie Jones (née Cohen), who was white; embraced a form of Black Islam; changed his name; married the poet Sylvia Robinson (later known as Amira Baraka); and moved uptown to open the Black Arts Repertory Theatre School. At the time of this recording, Baraka was already considered one of the country’s most promising new playwrights and an eloquent, fiery voice in racial politics; his Obie Award-winning play ‘Dutchman’ had just finished a year-long run, and his commissioned essay, ‘The Revolutionary Theater,’ had just been rejected by The New York Times, prompting the Overseas Press Club’s invitation to read it here at one of their weekly luncheons. The reading is followed by a sometimes contentious discussion. The essay, also rejected by The Village Voice, and later published in Black Dialogue, proposes a ‘revolutionary theater’ that ‘should force…change,’ representing ‘food for all those who need food…a weapon to help in the slaughter of these dim-witted, fat-bellied white guys who somehow believe that the rest of the world is here for them to slobber on.’  Listening to the soft, measured, dead-serious tone in which Baraka conveys such sentiments, it is clear that much of what was considered incendiary in 1965 is today simply a view — whether our own or the world’s — that we take for granted. Even his theatrical conceits’ most extreme imagery sounds eerily prescient to the contemporary ear: ‘We want actual explosions and actual brutality. An epic is crumbling and we must give it the space and hugeness of its actual demise.’ His imminent break with the white literary world is foreshadowed throughout, as are links between culture and politics that have now entered the mainstream, though they sometimes lead him to conclusions that are still surprising. …”
WNYC: Amiri Baraka Reads “The Revolutionary Theater” (Audio)
A “Ballot or Bullet” Art: The Legacy of Amiri Baraka
W – Amiri Baraka
[PDF] THE REVOLUTIONARY THEATRE – Liberator, July 1965
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