Friday, May 10, 2013
Letter to Amiri Baraka re Black Arts Movement Conference at University of California, Merced, Feb. 2014
Dear Mr. Baraka,
The honorarium is small, but I hope to raise money so that we can offer more. We would like the Conference to be free to the academic community and the general public. I was planning to charge, until a young African American female student told me that so many of her fellow students would welcome this opportunity, but didn't have the funds to pay a registration fee. So much of the time, there is a price on knowledge so that people of color are blocked from their heritage, and history. We are in Central California in one of the poorest communities in the United States. By hosting this Conference, we will have an opportunity to bring people together to learn about a dynamic and empowering time in American history for African Americans. I didn't learn about the Black Arts Movement until I was in college. I have known Marvin for over 15 years, and did not know of his part in this point in history. I have studied your work since I was in college. I don't want young African Americans to wait until they go to college to learn of Amiri Baraka. Your work should be in all high school curricula.
This summer, I will teach Theatre and Social Responsibility at UC Merced. One of the required books is the anthology Black Fire. I had an undergraduate come up to me saying that we are never taught this type of literature. Both Ishmael Reed and Marvin X have very kindly agreed to speak to my students. I am so blessed. Ishmael will be a part of the conference in February. I feel so happy to be able to teach students about African American history and literature. When I was working on my Master's in Playwrighting at San Francisco State in the 70s, your work, and the work of Lorraine Hansberry were the only two playwrights of color that we studied. I had no idea about Marvin X, or other playwrights of color because the works that were studied were given to us by older white men. I am so lucky to have a better understanding of African American Theatre. One of the reasons for that is because of playwrights like you, Marvin, and black voices that I have finally become smart enough to go out and find, rather than waiting for someone to hand me my drama.
We would truly be honored to have you speak at our Conference. Although, we are a small campus, the majority of our students are of color, and the African American study body is large, except on the graduate level. It would be a gift to so many black men and women, and people of all races to understand the importance of your work, and the work of Marvin X.