Monday, February 3, 2014

Marvin X's Love and War

Perhaps his greatest achievement as a poet is to merge Islamic cadences and sensibilities with scholarly American English and the language of the black ghetto. 

Editorial Reviews


With respect to Marvin X, declaring Muslim American literature as a field of study is valuable because recontextualizing it will add another layer of attention to his incredibly rich body of work.He deserves to be WAY better known than he is among Muslim Americans and generally, in the world of writing and the world at large. By we who are younger Muslim American poets, in particular, Marvin should be honored as our elder, one who is still kickin, still true to the word!

Mohja Kahf

Associate Professor

University of Arkansas-Fayetteville


Marvin X (El Muhajir)was a key poet and playwright of the Black Arts Movement (BAM) in the 1960s and early 1970s and is still active today. He is called the USA's Rumi and considered the father of Muslim American literature. He wrote for many of the leading black journals of the time, including Black Dialogue magazine, the Journal of Black Poetry, Soulbook, Black Scholar, Black Theater Magazine, Negro Digest/Black World and Muhammad Speaks. He founded Black Arts West Theatre with Ed Bullins, and Black House with Ed Bullins and Eldridge Cleaver, a political/cultural center which served for a short time as the headquarters of the Black Panther Party, the militant black nationalist group. Always a controversial and confrontational figure, Marvin X was banned from teaching at Fresno State University in the 1969 by the then state governor, Ronald Reagan. When asked in 2003 what had happened to the Black Arts Movement, Marvin X told Lee Hubbard: "I am still working on it..telling it like it is."

Marvin X was born Marvin Ellis Jackmon on May 29, 1944, in Fowler, California, an agricultural area near Fresno. His parents were Owendell and Marian Jackmon who published a black newspaper, The Fresno Voice, in the central valley. His father later became a florist, his mother ran her own real estate business. He has been known as Nazzam al Fitnah Muhajir, Maalik El Muhajir, and is now known simply as Marvin X. Marvin X attended Oakland City College (Merritt College) where he received his AA degree in 1964. He received his BA in English from San Francisco State College (San Francisco State University) in 1974 and his MA in 1975. The drama department at San Francisco State produced his first play, Flowers for the Trashman, 1965. Marvin X was involved with various theater projects and co-founded the Black Arts/West Theater with Bullins and others, 1966. Their aim was to provide a place where black writers and performers could work on drama projects, but they also had a political motive, to use theater and writing to campaign for the liberation of blacks from white oppression. Marvin X told Lee Hubbard: "The Black Arts Movement was part of the liberation movement of Black people in America. The Black Arts Movement was its artistic arm...[brothers] got a revolutionary consciousness through Black art, drama, poetry, music, paintings, and magazines."
By the late 1960s Marvin X was a central figure in the Black Arts Movement in San Francisco and Harlem, New York (a member of the New Lafayette Theatre) and had become part of the Nation of Islam, changing his name to El Muhajir and following Elijah Muhammad. Like the heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, Marvin X refused his induction to fight in Vietnam. But unlike Ali, Marvin X, along with several other brothers, decided to evade arrest. In 1967 he escaped to Toronto,Canada but was later arrested in Belize, Central America. He chastised the court for punishing him for refusing to be inducted into an army for the purpose of securing "White Power" throughout the world before he was sentenced to five months at Terminal Island Federal Prison. His statement was published in the journal The Black Scholar in 1971. 

Despite his reputation as an activist, Marvin X is also an intellectual, and a celebrated writer. He is most concerned with the problem of using language created by whites in order to argue for freedom from white power. Many of his plays and poems reflect this struggle to express himself as a black intellectual in a white-dominated society. His play Flowers for the Trashman (1965), for example, is the story of Joe Simmons, a jailed college student whose bitter attack on his white cellmate became a national rallying call for many in the Nation of Islam and other black nationalists. Marvin X's own poetry is heavy with Muslim ideology and propaganda, but it is supported by a sensitive poetic ear. Perhaps his greatest achievement as a poet is to merge Islamic cadences and sensibilities with scholarly American English and the language of the black ghetto. 
Like his close friend Eldridge Cleaver, in the late 1980s and 1990s Marvin X went through a period of addiction to crack cocaine. His play One Day in the Life (2000) takes a tragicomic approach to the issue of addiction and recovery, dealing with his own experiences with drug addiction and the experiences of Black Panthers, Cleaver, and Huey Newton (1942-1989). The play has been presented in community theaters around the United States as both a stage play and a video presentation. After emerging from addiction Marvin X founded Recovery Theatre and began organizing events for recovering addicts and those who work with them. His autobiography, Somethin' Proper (1998) includes reminiscences of his life fighting for black civil rights as well as an analysis of drug culture. Drug addiction and "reactionary" rap poetry are two areas of black culture that he has argued have "contributed to the desecration of black people." His latest books are a memoir of Eldridge Cleaver, My Friend the Devil, BBP 2009 and Mythology of Pussy and Dick, a manhood/womanhood rites of passage, BBP 2009.

In the late 1990s Marvin X became an influential figure in the campaign to have 
reparations paid for the treatment of blacks under slavery. He organized meetings, readings, and performances to promote black culture and civil rights. He has worked as a university teacher since the early 1970s, as well as giving readings and guest lectures in universities and theaters throughout the United States. Marvin X has also received several awards, including a Columbia University writing grant in 1969 and a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1972 and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, 1979. 

Selected writings


Sudan Rajuli Samia (poems), Al Kitab Sudan Publishing, 1967.
Black Dialectic (proverbs), Al Kitab Sudan Publishing, 1967.
Fly to Allah: Poems, Al Kitab Sudan Publishing, 1969.
The Son of Man, Al Kitab Sudan Publishing, 1969.
Black Man Listen: Poems and Proverbs, Broadside Press, 1969.
Black Bird (parable), Al Kitab Sudan Publishing, 1972.
Woman-Man's Best Friend, Al Kitab Sudan Publishing, 1973.
Selected Poems, Al Kitab Sudan Publishing, 1979
Confession of a Wife Beater and Other Poems, Al Kitab Sudan Publishing, 1981. Liberation Poems for North American Africans, Al Kitab Sudan Publishing, 1982.
Love and War: Poems, Black Bird Press, 1995.
Somethin' Proper, autobiography, BBP, 1998.
In the Crazy House Called America, essays, BBP, 2002.
Wish I Could Tell You the Truth, essays, BBP, 2005.
In the Land of My Daughters, poems, BBP,2005.
Beyond Religion, toward Spirituality, essays, 2007.
How to Recover from the Addiction to White Supremacy,BBP, 2008
Eldridge Cleaver, My friend the Devil, a memoir, BBP, 2009
Mythology of Pussy, a manhood/womanhood rites of passage, BBP, 2009

Flowers for the Trashman (one-act), first produced in San Francisco at San Francisco State College, 1965.
Come Next Summer, first produced in San Francisco at Black Arts/West Theatre, 1966.
The Trial, first produced in New York City at Afro-American Studio for Acting and Speech, 1970.
Take Care of Business, (musical version of Flowers for the Trashman) first produced in Fresno, California, at Your Black Educational Theatre, 1971.
Resurrection of the Dead, first produced in San Francisco at Your Black Educational Theatre, 1972.
Woman-Man's Best Friend, (musical dance drama based on author's book of same title), first produced in Oakland, California, at Mills College, 1973.
In the Name of Love, first produced in Oakland at Laney College Theatre, 1981.
One Day in the Life, 2000, produced at Recovery Theatre, San Francisco.
Salaam, Huey Newton, Salaam, (with Ed Bullins),produced at the New Federal Theatre, New York, 2008.
Sergeant Santa, 2002.Other 
One Day in the Life (videodrama and soundtrack),2002. 
The Kings and Queens of Black Consciousness (video documentary), 2002. 
Love and War (poetry reading published on CD), 2001. 

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