Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Reviews: Books from the Wild Crazy Ride of the Marvin X Experience

Somethin' Proper, the Autobiography of Marvin X, from the introduction by Dr. Nathan Hare

Marvin X
photo Kamau Amen Ra

Somethin' Proper, the Autobiography of Marvin X, Black Bird Press, 1998

from the Introduction by Dr. Nathan Hare, the Black Think Tank

In SOMETHIN' PROPER, we quickly see that we are inside the pages not only of Marvin's private political papers, comprising a lyrical diary shaped to be read and enjoyed like a novel by the masterful hands of an internationally noted black poet, but we are being escorted to the cutting edge of a fascinating postmodern black literary genre in the making, the notes of an undying black warrior who refuses to give up, give out or give in!
Somethin' Proper: The Life and Times of a North American African Poet  
Although easy to read by almost anybody wishing to do so, SOMETHIN' PROPER (apparently a phrase from the drug subculture, i.e., BREAK ME OFF SOMETHIN' PROPER), presents us at once with an opportunity for a deeper understanding of a panorama of participants in the often poignant but sometimes hilarious inner workings of the black male psyche, from the middle class bourgeois pretenders such as "tenured Negroes" on the academic plantation and their "negrocity," to "coconuts" in the corporations, and across the spectrum to brothers in the hood, particularly the way in which utility and haughty demeanor conceal and mask the panoramic and pervasive depression of the black male.

Before his death at the early age of 36, Frantz Fanon, the black psychiatrist who lived and wrote about the relations between the oppressor and oppressed in the battle of Algiers (Wretched of the Earth; Black Skin, White Masks, and A Dying Colonialism), presented us with clear psychiatric paradigms for the struggles Marvin deftly captures for us.

Marvin is able to give us insights into himself and his affiliates (Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Little Bobby Hutton, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Angela Davis, et.al., that are original but reminiscent of Fanon, because Marvin is bearing the covers on his life and the life of others.

Of all the many disorders and distortions that plague the black male, each and every day, perhaps the ones that take the heaviest tool on his ravished brain are those that—if not contained by armed resistance—revolve around the painful difficulty of gaining control over his individual and collective destiny, around what is known in mental health circles as "the locus of control," the dilemma of resistance to the enemy from without and the enemy from within (including the self, if we consider that there can be no master without those who, for whatever reason, are willing to be a slave). Might makes right but not for long.

If we honor the likes of Patrick Henry for saying "give me liberty or give me death," it is no matter that when the Negro says give him liberty or death the white man tries to give him death! The so-called Negro is confronted with a choice Patrick Henry had not reckoned with, something Fanon called "reactional disorders" or "psychosomatic pathology" that is the direct product of oppression.

But out of a last ditch desperation in self-medication and the management of his pulverized and thwarted emotions, in a mindless effort to soothe his psychological and social wounds, the black male is introduced unwarily if discreetly to the vicious cycle of self-mutilation and induced addiction, which takes hold and spreads like an epidemic virus as part of the psycho-technology, historically, of the white man's oppression of the North American African and others around the world.

In his powerlessness and victimization, with nothing left to lean on, the black man is likely to mount the seesaw, if not the roller coaster of racial psycho-social dependency and messianic religiosity (becoming the mad-dog religious fanatic, believing in a savior other than himself) on the one hand and the individual chemical dependent on the other, i.e. the dope fiend.

Marvin decontructs both. In the bottomless caverns of addiction in any form, there seems no amount of religiosity, coke, crack, alcohol or sex sufficient to sedate the social angst and shattered cultural strivings.

The more the black man tempts to medicate his anxiety and to mask his depression and self doubts with pretense and hostility, the more he finds himself in trouble with the persons he must love and be loved by than with the alien representatives of the society that would control and castrate his manhood.

Novelist Richard Wright, addressing these paradoxes and dilemmas in his own autobiography BLACK BOY, explained that, "Because I had no power to make things happen outside of me in the objective world, I made things happen within. Because my environment was bare and bleak, I endowed it with unlimited potentialities, redeemed it for the sake of my own hungry and cloudy yearning."

The catch is in the way these things turn out after the boy has been taken through the meat grinder of growing up within the machinery of white social control. In response, the strategy or road most taken by both Marvin X and Richard Wright, to put it simply, is FLIGHT (what Wright as a matter of fact names the middle passage of his novel, Native Son, book 2 of 3).

As surely as the individual who accepts oppression is constantly in flight from his racial identity, the black man who rejects it is constantly on the run from the agency of white supremacy that must control him and wishes to annihilate him outright. And here is where Marvin's story is most valuable to us , helping us to grasp the meaning of the tradition of escape within our race, literature and history, stretching back to the slave trade and slave ships of the middle passage, down to the demanding requirements of escape from coercion, incarceration and surveillance in the modern era: he takes us through a childhood of continual efforts to avoid juvenile hall, to the flights of his father (despite punishing ambiguities, Marvin X dedicates his book to both his parents in memorial), calling upon pure personal honesty and the deepest levels of understanding to appreciate the parental struggles of his own and the resulting psycho-sexual and social conflicts.

Without professing to do so, Marvin X speaks here most effectively of all black men, exposing their triumphs and follies, telling all he knows about everybody, including himself, always seeming to exact the hardest toll of all on himself, inviting us openly and unashamedly into the intricacies of his youthful endeavors to love too many women, including more than one try at the practice of polygamy (at one point he had four wives, in the Islamic tradition), until he realizes that if monogamy is the love and marriage of one woman, polygamy is the love or marriage of one woman too many!

I predict that SOMETHIN' PROPER (the life and times of a North American African Poet) will readily emerge as an underground classic as well as a classic of the black consciousness movement and the world of the troubled inner city, a manual of value to any brother who has lost his way and the sister who would help him to understand or know how to find it, to find it within himself, in the intriguing story of Marvin X, who has been there and the women and political fellow-travelers in the black movement who were there with him in his often daring escapades, his secret flights and open confrontations with white supremacy.

In the end, is he bitter? Or is he happy as a negro eating watermelon on massa's plantation? Well, in the beginning white people are devils—but by the end, all people are devils—in Marvin's world. After all, this is his story. Nevertheless, by the end we are convinced Marvin has regained faith in himself, his God and his people.

And it is gratifying in an era of the sellout, the faint hearted and the fallen, to see that Marvin X was one black man who met the white man in the center of the ring and walked with him to the corners of psycho-social inequity, grappling with him through the bowels of the earth, yet remained one black man the white man couldn't get.

I'm glad I stopped that day on Market Street and bought a pair of Marvin's sunglasses, but I wish I knew where to find those sunglasses now, because I could feel so proud to wear them, or, better yet, I could lend them to some other brother who was trying to find his way to SOMETHIN' PROPER while moving in the direction of the sun.
--Dr. Nathan Hare

The Public Career of Marvin X

30 Years of Teaching and Writing: The Public Career of Marvin X

James G. Spady

Copyright James G. Spady, 1997,
Philadelphia New Observer

Marvin X has been teaching for a long time. He has established his tenacity. As one of the founders of the Black Arts Movement (BAM), he became a teacher in an emerging field called Black Studies. Like Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, Larry Neal, Askia Toure and others, Marvin X both contributed to and later taught those pivotal courses that constituted a new discipline.

For the last thirty years, this gifted poet, journalist, dramatist, oral historian (he appears to be the only participant in the Black Arts Movement that conducted intensive and extensive oral interviews with the key participants, as well as international political, cultural and educational leaders)and teacher, has established an unusual record. Marvin X has taught at the University of California at San Diego, Mills College, San Francisco State University, Fresno State University,
Laney and Merritt Colleges in Oakland, University of Nevada,Reno, and the University of California at Berkeley.

His peers were among the first to recognize his ability. The well-known African American man of the Arts and Letters, Amiri Baraka, refers to Marvin X as "one of the outstanding African writers and teachers in America. He has always been in the forefront of Pan African writing. Indeed, he is one of the founders and innovators of the new revolutionary school of African writing."

One of the best known playwrights in America is Ed Bullins. He refers to X as "one of the founders of the modern day Black theatre movement. He is a Black artist par excellence." The editor of Black Scholar magazine, Robert Chrisman, spoke of Marvin as "an extraordinary distinguished poet who has a powerful sense of meaningful drama"....

After high school (1962), Marvin enrolled in Oakland City College, aka Merritt College. There he met Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, who went on to found the Black Panther Party. It was at OCC that Marvin began to undergo a vital change. He listened intently as speaker after speaker addressed the ever-growing members of the cognoscente at Oakland City College. They, like many area colleges, benefited from the organizing and conscious-raising activities of the Afro American Association under the leadership of a young black lawyer, Donald Warden (now Khalid Abdullah Al Mansour). Marvin's early writings appeared in the Merritt College literary magazine.

Upon receiving the A.A. degree, Marvin went on to San Francisco State University, 1964. Marvin wrote a play for one of his English classes. The professor, legendary novelist John Gardner, was sufficiently impressed to carry it over to the theatre department. In the Spring of 1965, Marvin X's one-act play "Flowers for the Trashman" was produced at San Francisco State, a novel experience for an African American. It is even more exceptional in that it was his first play. (Published initially in Black Dialogue, Winter, 1966 and later in Black Fire, edited by Larry Neal and LeRoi Jones).

Marvin X soon met Philly playwright Ed Bullins, introduced to him by Art Sheridan, founding editor of Black Dialogue magazine. Ed and Marvin founded Black Arts West Thetre in the Fillmore. Black Arts West was certainly influenced by the Black Arts Movement in the East, mainly New York and Philadelphia.

The role of Amiri Baraka in shaping national Black consciousness can not be overemphasized. However, Marvin X, Hillary X, Ethna X, Duncan X (as they would become in a few months after joining the Nation of Islam, circa 1967), along with Ed Bullins and Farouk (Carl Bossiere, rip)were part of an indigenous Black Arts Movement....

Part Two: 30 Years of Teaching and Writing: The Public Career of Marvin X
by James G. Spady, Philadelphia New Observer,1997 

copyright (c) 1997 by James G. Spady

...The poetry of Marvin X is deeply rooted in the cosmological convictions of his ancestors and his community. His individual identity is inextricably linked to his communal identity. That is why it functions as a source of power and inspiration. Because he is open to the magico-realist perception or reality and has the authentic experiences of the streets, Marvin's works strike a chord. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in a recent collection, Love and War, 1995.

"Read Love and War for Ramadan!"--Dr. Mohja Kahf, University of Arkansas, Department of English and Islamic Literature 

cover art by Emory Douglas,
 Black Panther Minister of Culture

He introduces the work with these words, "Love and War is my poetic story of rediscovering self love and the internal war (Jihad) to reconquer my soul from the devil who whispers into the hearts of men, Al Qur'an. But I am also mindful of socio political conditions of my people. And this reality fills me with compassion and love, forcing me once again (now that I am clean and sober) to put on the armor of God and return to the battlefield. This collection is a signal of my return to the struggle of African American liberation after an absence of nearly a decade, caused by disillusionment and drug abuse. I return with the spirit of my friend, Huey P. Newton, rip, shaking my bones. He and I were often in the same drug territory and but for the grace of God, I chould have easily suffered a fate similar to his. I came close many times. Praise be to Allah."

"Marvin X was my teacher, many of our comrades came through his black theatre: Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, Emory Douglas, George Murray and Sam Napier."
Dr. Huey P. Newton,co-founder of the Black Panther Party

...Craft is essential to Marvin X's poetry and drama. He knows the possibilities and constraints of the form. And he also knows how to expand. He credits Sun Ra with having helped him to realize the full possibilities of theatre. Marvin read his poetry in San Ra's grand musical energy field and he closely observed Sonny's skillful exploration of our Omniverse and all of its real possibilities. Was int not Sun Ra who told Marvin X that he would be teaching at U.C. Berkeley before it happened?

Marvin X and Sun Ra, both Gemini. Sun Ra was Marvin's mentor and artistic associate.
They performed together from coast to coast. This  pic is outside Marvin's Black Educational Theatre in San Francisco's Fillmore, 1972. Sun Ra wrote the music
for Marvin's play Take Care of Business,
the musical version of Flowers for the Trashman.

...Nearly 30 years ago, Marvin sought to teach the relationship of Islam and Black Art. In his published conversation with Amiri Baraka, he attempted to reconcile and provide voices and faces for the different expressions of Islam in the West.

As a skilled interviewer, he allows Askia Toure and Baraka's divergent views of Islam to be placed into the record. In the afterword he states, "I believe the Honorable Elijah Muhammad is at least ten years ahead of any Black group working for freedom, justice and equality in the hells of North America. The Islamic ideology, discipline and organizational structure permits the masses of our people to fully develop their self-identity, self defense and self-government."

Again, X is out front. He recognized the tremendous influence Islam had on the Black Arts Movement. He is a case study in that type of influence....

Elijah and Malcolm, major influences on Marvin XHe honors both men.

....Marvin X is credited with convincing Eldridge Cleaver to use his advance against royalties from the popular book Soul on Ice, to help set up Black House. The building became "the mecca of political, cultural activity in The Bay Area. Among artists featured were: Sonia Sanchez,Vonetta McGee, Amiri and Amina Baraka, Chicago Art Ensemble,
Avoctja, Emory Douglas, Sarah Webster Fabio, et al. Playwright Ed Bullins joined Marvin and Eldrdige at the Black House, along with Marvin's partner, Ethna X (Hurriyah Asar), and singer Willie Dale, Cleaver's buddy from San Quentin.

Eldridge Cleaver, see Marvin X's memoir, Eldridge Cleaver, My friend the Devil, 2009 Upon his release from Soledad prison, Marvin X was the first person he hooked up with. Later Marvin introduced him to Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.

....Marvin X is a teacher of primeval knowledge, a knower of both street poetry and book poetry. In fact, he combines the two in a powerful way. Each verse is a teach act, each stanza--a class. His use of alliteration, rhymes, assonance, dissonance and free rhymes indicates he has absorbed the teachings of the academy. Yet, the street consciousness lying in the cut of its content links him directly to the poets of the new idiom called Rap.

Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale who attended Oakland's Merritt College along with Huey Newton and Marvin X. Bobby performed in Marvin's second play Come Next Summer before founding the Black
Panther Party.

His experimental verses are wholistic, historical and yet dialogical. The dynamic complexities of the situation creates in the reader an urgent need to know more. Can we expect anything elswe from a good teacher?
James G. Spady is one of our greatest literary critics. We will soon post his review of Marvin X's autobiography, Somethin Proper, entitled "Making an Inventory and Constructing Self Prior to the year 2000." His review is not dated by time.

In the Crazy House Called America        Introduction, Video & ReviewsSource: ChickenBones: A Journal for Literary & Artis...l

Review: Junious Ricardo Stanton on In the Crazy House Called America, essays by Marvin X

Marvin X Offers A Healing Peek Into His Psyche
Review of In the Crazy House Called America


Marvin X Offers A Healing Peek Into His Psyche

By  Junious Ricardo Stanton

Rarely is a brother secure and honest enough with himself to reveal his innermost thoughts, emotions or his most hellacious life experiences. For most men it would be a monumental feat just to share/bare his soul with his closest friends but to do so to perfect strangers would be unthinkable, unless he had gone through the fires of life and emerged free of the dross that tarnishes his soul. Marvin X, poet, playwright, author and essayist does just that in a self-published book entitled In the Crazy House Called America

This latest piece from Marvin X offers a peek into his soul and his psyche. He lets the reader know he is hip to the rabid oppression the West heaps upon people of color especially North American Africans while at the same time revealing the knowledge gleaned from his days as a student radical,  black nationalist revolutionary forger of the Black Arts Movement, husband, father lover, a dogger of women did not spare him the degradation and agony of descending into the abyss of crack addiction, abusive and toxic relationships and family tragedy.  

Perhaps because of the knowledge gained as a member of the Nation of Islam, and his experiences as one of the prime movers of the cultural revolution of the '60, the insights he shares In the Crazy House Called America are all the keener. Marvin writes candidly of his pain, bewilderment and depression of losing his son to suicide. He shares in a very powerful way, his own out of body helplessness as he wallowed in the dregs of an addiction that threatened to destroy his soul and the mess his addictions made of his life and relationships with those he loved. 

But he is not preachy and this is not an autobiography. He has already been there and done that. In sharing his story and the wisdom he has gleaned from his life experiences and looking at the world through the eyes of an artist/healer, Marvin X serves as a modern day shaman/juju man who in order to heal himself and his people ventures into the spirit realm to confront the soul devouring demons and mind pulverizing dragons; he is temporarily possessed by them, heroically struggles to rebuke their power before they destroy him; which enables him to return to this realm, tell us what it is like, prove redemption is possible, thereby empowering himself/ us and helping to heal us. He touches on a myriad of topics as he raps and writes about himself and current events. 

Reading this book  you know he knows what it is like to come face to face with and do battle with the insanity and death this society has in store for all Africans.   Marvin X talks about his sexual relations/dysfunction, drugs, media and free speech, sports, black political power or the lack thereof, the war on drugs and the current War on Terrorism, nothing is off limits. He includes reviews of music, theater as well as film, but not as some smarter/ holier than thou, elitist observer. 

Marvin X writes as one actively engaged in life, including its pain and suffering. He lets us know he was a willing and active participant in his addiction, how it impacted his decision making, his role as a parent, his male-female "relationships", his ability to be creative within a movement to liberate African people and the world from the corruption of Caucasian hegemony. 

Marvin X is in recovery and it has not been easy for him. As a writer/healer he still has the voice of a revolutionary poet/playwright, it is a voice we need to listen and pay attention to. He has survived his own purgatory and emerged stronger and more committed to life and saving his people.  As North American Africans (his term to differentiate us from our continental and Diaspora brethren) he sees the toll the insanity of this culture takes on us. His culturally induced self-destructive lifestyle choices and the death of his son is a testament to how life threatening and lethal this society can be. 

But Marvin X also talks about spiritual redemption, the ability to transcend even the most horrific experiences with resiliency and determination so that one gets a glimpse of  one's own  divine potential. This book is an easy read which makes it all the more profound. In The Crazy House Called America is for brothers especially. It is a book all black men should grab hold of and digest, if for no other reason than to experience just how redemptively healing and liberating being honest can be.
*  *  *  *  *

Eldridge Cleaver: My friend the Devil, A Memoir by Marvin X

March 21, 2009


Marvin X‘s newest book, “Eldridge Cleaver: My Friend, The Devil” is an important Expose!, notonly of whom his good friend really was… (I confess I thought something like that, in less metaphysical terms, from the day we met, at San Francisco State, 1967) But also of whom Marvin was/is. Now, Marvin has confessed to being Yacub, whom Elijah Muhammad taught us was the “evil big head scientist” who created the devil. (Marvin’s head is very large for his age.)
What is good about this book is Marvin’s telling us something about who Eldridge became as the Black Panther years receded in the rear view mirror. I remember during this period, when I learned that Marvin was hanging around Cleaver even after he’d made his televised switch from anti-capitalist revolutionary to Christian minister, denouncing the 3rd World revolutionaries and the little Marxism he thought he knew, while openly acknowledging beating his wife as a God given male prerogative, I said to Marvin, “I thought you was a Muslim” . His retort, “Jesus pay more money than Allah, Bro”, should be a classic statement of vituperative recidivism.

But this is one of the charms of this memoir. It makes the bizarre fathomable. Especially the tales of fraternization with arguably the most racist & whitest of the Xtian born agains with Marvin as agent, road manager, co-conspirator-confessor, for the post-Panther – very shot- out Cleaver. It also partially explains some of Cleaver’s moves to get back in this country, he had onetime denounced, and what he did after the big cop out. Plus, some of the time, these goings on seem straight out hilarious. Though frequently, that mirth is laced with a sting of regret. Likewise, I want everyone to know that I am writing this against my will, as a favor to Yacub.—Amiri Baraka. Newark, 5/13/09

Chapter 1

It all began at Soledad Prison, sometime during 1966. Black Dialogue magazine was approached by attorney Beverly Axelrod about making a visit to the Soledad Prison Black Culture Club. The editors agreed to make the visit, including myself as fiction editor. The other editors included Art Sheridan, Gerald, Aubrey and Peter LaBrie, Sadaat Ahmed, Joe Goncalves, Duke Williams, et al. We made our way down the coast to Soledad. I was both excited and sad because my brother Ollie was probably an inmate at the time, though I can't remember.

Our staff was taken to the hosting officer's apartment and briefed on what to do and not to do. No contact with inmates, no passing or taking of literature. We agreed but it didn't mean a thing. Soon as we got inside the meeting room we knew what we were going to do. At first we got inside and saw the brothers seated, with the meeting in progress. Eldridge was chair and his lieutenant was Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter. Bunchy was a very handsome black man, so handsome it belied his leadership qualities as head of the Los Angeles Slauson gang.

But chairman Cleaver was a giant of a man, tell, light skinned and articulate. But more than the words said, I was immediately impressed with the organizational structure with brothers on post with military style discipline. It was probably the first time I'd seen black men so organized. We know now according to brother Kumasi that this was the beginning of the prison movement in California and the nation, this black culture club of mostly young black men confined to the dungeon as so many are today, causing havoc in black family and community life.

In this Soledad dungeon would come a prison movement on par with the black student movement, black arts, and black studies. As I listened to Chairman Eldridge speak, I said to myself this is a dangerous Negro if allowed to depart these walls. Clearly, he was well read after a total of eighteen years of confinement in the California Gulags. I would learn later he was soaked in Marxist Leninism and literature in general. And when Black Dialogue obtained his writings for publication, especially “My, Queen, I Greet You,” we suspected this was a man with the passion and writing skills of Baldwin. And of course he must have sensed this comparison and thus his need to denounce Baldwin to take a shot at the black literary crown, although he did it by a homophobic denunciation which led one to suspect his own sexual improprieties, especially after so long in prison.

But at that first meeting, we were humbled to be with the brothers, to share with them by reading our writings from Black Dialogue. At the end of the meeting we all embraced and exchanged materials in violation of the officer's request. We gave them copies of Dialogue and they gave us manuscripts of their writings which were later published in Dialogue and Journal of Black Poetry. As I said, we published “My Queen, I Greet You,” in Dialogue and Joe Goncalves published the poetry of Bunchy and others in JBP. We left Soledad and headed back up the coast to San Francisco. Thus was established a connection between the prison movement and black students, the black arts movement and eventually the Black Panther Party when I introduced Elbridge to Bobby Seale soon after his release from prison.

Chapter II

Several months passed before I met Eldridge again. Somebody called me to come over Sister Mary Anna's house. Maryanna Waddy was the daughter of painter Ruth Waddy, but more importantly, she was the student, though somewhat older at the time, who aggressively pushed for the name change from Negro Students Association to the Black Students Union. Maryanna was a strong black woman who took no jive, maybe the result of black consciousness taught by her mother. But when I entered her house, Eldridge was there trying to introduce his plans to the community.

There seemed to be some tension between him and Maryanna, a black man/black woman power battle. Maybe Maryanna knew about Eldridge's white woman lawyer, Beverley Axelrod, who had smuggled his manuscript Soul on Ice out of Soledad. We would learn that Eldridge had promised to marry her, so his blackness was suspect from the beginning—but we would handle that matter a few months down the road. Maryanna and most of those present, maybe members of the BSU, including those of us from Black Dialogue. If I recall correctly, Eldridge gave me a ride home and we agreed to meet again soon.

Things were going bad for us at Black Arts West Theatre on Fillmore Street, across the street from Tree's pool hall and around the corner from the Sun Reporter newspaper, published by the millionaire Communist Dr. Carlton Goodlett. BAW was breaking up because of egos and other psychopathic behavior in our crew which included Ed Bullins, Duncan Barber, Hillary Broadous, Carl Bossiere, and Ethna Wyatt. All of us wanted to make BAW happen but our egos got in the way, along with deeper mental problems. In spite of these problems, we did my plays and the plays of Ed Bullins. We had jazz concerts with the Bay Area's best, including Raphael Garrett, Monte Waters, Dewey Redman, Oliver Jackson, B.J., and others. 

Only thing with the musicians, many had white women which we would not allow in the theatre, since we were black nationalists on the road to becoming members of the Nation of Islam. A long time criminal Muslim came to our theatre to recruit us, Alonzo Harris Batin, who became the guru and mentor of BAW. Batin was a criminal with a heart of gold. He wanted us to join the Nation even though most of the time he was not in good standing and considered a hypocrite. Soon we were indoctrinated by Batin and eventually most of us joined the Nation except Ed Bullins. Bullins was into his art and living or at least staying in the Beatnik area of North Beach.

For awhile, Ethna was the glue that held BAW together. She fed us when we were low on money to buy food. She would cook something that would be enough for the crew and she would try to stop us from killing each other as we ego-tripped. Ethna had come from Chicago, maybe during or around the time of that Summer of Love. It seemed many beautiful women fled Chicago to the West coast. Ethna's friend had come, Sandra Williams, helping out at BAW. Danny Glover acted in BAW, performing in Dorothy Ahmed's play Papa's Daughter, about incest. Actress and SFSU student Vonetta McGee performed in Bullins' play It Has No Choice and another play by Bullins that I can't remember the name.

And then one day the crew called me to the lobby of the theatre to meet a man they said spoke seven languages. After they called me several times to come to the lobby, I came from the theatre to meet a tall, jet black brother with straight hair, Ali Sharif Bey, who indeed did speak several languages, including English, Persian, Spanish, French, Arabic and Urdu. He became our on-site Islamic scholar and teacher, teaching us Arabic and his vast knowledge of Islam based on the Ahmediah sect, the great evangelists of Islam to the West. Ali Sharif Bey would surface later as the runner for the SLA when they kidnapped Patty Hearst. He is the source for my master thesis docudrama How I Met Isa.

But in spite of all this community support—none from the Black bourgeoisie until later at the Black House which Eldridge convinced me to help organize since I told him I was tired of the bs at BAW and was ready to do something different. We discussed setting up what eventually became Black House, a political/cultural center on Broderick Street off Divisadero in the Fillmore. Ed Bullins soon joined Eldridge, Ethna and myself. For a few months Black House became the cultural center of the Bay with thousands of conscious hungry black flocking there for culture. Black House participants included Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Askia Toure, Chicago Art Ensemble, Sarah Webster Fabio, Reginald Lockett, Emory Douglas, Samuel Napier and Little Bobby Hutton. On the political side, Eldridge brought in a Communist party leader, Rosco Proctor.

Eldridge had no time for the culture, even though he couldn't help but be influenced by it since it was at the house he financed with his advance from Soul On Ice. He and Baraka had little to say to each other even though Baraka's Communication Project at San Francisco State College/now University, had its off campus base at Black House. Years later these two men would switch ideologies with Baraka turning Communist and Eldridge finding religion. Eldridge would eventually go from Communist to Christian, to Mormon to Moonie to Religious Science.

But at Black House he was strictly Communist and he pushed hard to get us to follow his path, though we resisted until Black House fell apart from ideological differences. Before it fell we had gone to Beverly Axelrod's house to literally remove Cleaver since we found it a contradiction for the chairman of Black House to be sleeping at the White House. One afternoon brother Batin and I made Eldridge move his things from the White House while Miss Ann cried. Among his belongings was that wicker chair, spear and rug made famous in that photo of Huey Newton.

Marvin X, also known as Marvin Jackmon and El Muhajir was born May 29, 1944 in Fowler, California, near Fresno. Marvin X is well known for his work as a poet, playwright and essayist of the BLACK ARTS MOVEMENT or BAM. He attended Merritt College along with Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. He received his BA and MA in English from San Francisco State University.
 Marvin X is most well known for his work with Ed Bullins in the founding of Black House and The Black Arts/West Theatre in San Francisco. Black House served briefly as the headquarters for the Black Panther Party and as a center for performance, theatre, poetry and music. 
Marvin X is a playwright in the true spirit of the BAM. His most well-known BAM play, entitled Flowers for the Trashman, deals with generational difficulties and the crisis of the Black intellectual as he deals with education in a white-controlled culture. Marvin X's other works include, The Black Bird, The Trial, Resurrection of the Dead and In the Name of Love.
He currently has the longest running African American drama in the San Francisco Bay area and Northern California, ONE DAY IN THE LIFE, a tragi-comedy of addiction and recovery. He is the founder and director of RECOVERY THEATRE.
Marvin X
Marvin X has continued to work as a lecturer, teacher and producer. He has taught at Fresno State University; San Francisco State University; University of California - Berkeley and San Diego; University of Nevada, Reno; Mills College, Laney and Merritt Colleges in Oakland. He has received writing fellowships from Columbia University and the National Endowment for the Arts and planning grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Read: Marvin X Unplugged An Interview by Lee Hubbard
Marvin X is available for lectures/readings/performance.  Contact him at xblackxmanx@aol.com.

The Wisdom of Plato Negro: Parables/Fables

In “Wisdom of Plato Negro,” Marvin teaches by stories, ancient devices of instruction that appeal to a non-literate as well as a semi-literate people. (Fables differ from parables only by their use of animal characters.) The oldest existing genre of storytelling used long before the parables of Jesus or the fables of Aesop, they are excellent tools, in the hands of a skilled artist like Marvin X, in that he modifies the genre for a rebellious hip hop generation who drops out or are pushed out of repressive state sponsored public schools at a 50% clip. Marvin X is a master of these short short stories. Bibliographies, extended footnotes, indexes, formal argumentation, he knows, are of no use to the audience he seeks, that 95 percent that lives from paycheck to paycheck.

These moral oral forms (parables and fables), developed before the invention of writing, taught by indirection how to think and behave respecting the integrity of others. Marvin explained to his College of Arts audience, “This form [the parable] seems perfect for people with short attention span, the video generation… The parable fits my moral or ethical prerogative, allowing my didacticism to run full range” (“Parable of a Day in the Life of Plato Negro,” 147). But we live in a more “hostile environment” than ancient people. Our non-urban ancestors were more in harmony with Nature than our global racialized, exploitive, militarized northern elite societies.
—Rudolph Lewis is the Founding Editor of Chickenbones.com, A Journal. (Click here to read the full review).

Click to order via Amazon
Paperback: 281 pages
Publisher: Black Bird Press (2007)
Language: English

Marvin X has done extraordinary mind and soul work in bringing our attention to the importance of spirituality, as opposed to religion, in our daily living. Someone'maybe Kierkegaard or maybe it was George Fox who'said that there was no such thing as "Christianity." There can only be Christians. It is not institutions but rather individuals who make the meaningful differences in our world. It is not Islam but Muslims. Not Buddhism but Buddhists. Marvin X has made a courageous difference. In this book he shares the wondrous vision of his spiritual explorations. His eloquent language and rhetoric are varied'sophisticated but also earthy, sometimes both at once.

Highly informed he speaks to many societal levels and to both genders'to the intellectual as well as to the man/woman on the street or the unfortunate in prison'to the mind as well as the heart. His topics range from global politics and economics to those between men and women in their household. Common sense dominates his thought. He shuns political correctness for the truth of life. He is a Master Teacher in many fields of thought'religion and psychology, sociology and anthropology, history and politics, literature and the humanities. He is a needed Counselor, for he knows himself, on the deepest of personal levels and he reveals that self to us, that we might be his beneficiaries.

All of which are represented in his Radical Spirituality'a balm for those who anguish in these troubling times of disinformation. As a shaman himself, he calls too for a Radical Mythology to override the traditional mythologies of racial supremacy that foster war and injustice. If you want to reshape (clean up, raise) your consciousness, this is a book to savor, to read again, and again'to pass onto a friend or lover.
—Rudolph Lewis, Editor, ChickenBones: A Journal

Love and War: PoemsL

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Islam and the Black Arts Movement: Marvin X's Love and War poems, 1995

Marvin X was a prime shaper of the Black Arts Movement (1964-1970s) which is, among other things, the birthplace of modern Muslim American literature, and it begins with him. Well, Malik Shabazz and him....

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!--Dr. Mohja Kahf
 Cover art by Emory Douglas, Black Panther Party Minister of Culture

 Fly to Allah, 1969,  is the beginning of Muslim American literature, according to Dr. Mohja Kahf. 

Marvin X, 1972. His Black Educational Theatre performed Resurrection of the Dead, a myth-ritual dance drama, 1972. His actors were students from his drama class at University of California, Berkeley.

 Syrian poet-professor-activist, Dr. Mohja Kahf
Dr. Mohja Kahf and Marvin X. She invited Marvin X to read at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, where she teaches English and Islamic literature.

Love and War


by Marvin X

review by Mohja Kahf

Have spent the last few days (when not mourning with friends and family the passing of my family friend and mentor in Muslim feminism and Islamic work, Sharifa AlKhateeb, (may she dwell in Rahma), immersed in the work of Marvin X and amazed at his brilliance. This poet has been prolific since his first book of poems, Fly to Allah, (1969), right up to his most recent Love and War Poems (1995) and Land of My Daughters, 2005, not to mention his plays, which were produced (without royalties) in Black community theatres from the 1960s to the present, and essay collections such as In the Crazy House Called America, 2002, and Wish I Could Tell You The Truth, 2005.

Marvin X was a prime shaper of the Black Arts Movement (1964-1970s) which is, among other things, the birthplace of modern Muslim American literature, and it begins with him. Well, Malik Shabazz and him. But while the Autobiography of Malcolm X is a touchstone of Muslim American culture, Marvin X and other Muslims in BAM were the emergence of a cultural expression of Black Power and Muslim thought inspired by Malcolm, who was, of course, ignited by the teachings and writings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. And that, taken all together, is what I see as the starting point of Muslim American literature. Then there are others, immigrant Muslims and white American Muslims and so forth, that follow. There are also antecedents, such as the letters of Africans enslaved in America. Maybe there is writing by Muslims in the Spanish and Portuguese era or earlier, but that requires archival research of a sort I am not going to be able to do. My interest is contemporary literature, and by literature I am more interested in poetry and fiction than memoir and non-fiction, although that is a flexible thing. I argue that it is time to call Muslim American literature a field, even though many of these writings can be and have been classified in other ways--studied under African American literature or to take the writings of immigrant Muslims, studied under South Asian ethnic literature or Arab American literature. 
With respect to Marvin X, I wonder why I am just now hearing about him-I read Malcolm when I was 12, I read Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez and others from the BAM in college and graduate school-why is attention not given to his work in the same places I encountered these other authors? 

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!

Love and War Poems is wrenching and powerful, combining a powerful critique of America ("America downsizes like a cripple whore/won't retire/too greedy to sleep/too fat to rest") but also a critique of deadbeat dads and drug addicts (not sparing himself) and men who hate. "For the Men" is so Quranic poem it gave me chills with verses such as:

for the men who honor wives and the men who abuse them

for the men who win and the men who sin

for the men who love God and the men who hate

for the men who are brothers and the men who are beasts....

"O Men, listen to the wise," the poet pleads: there is no escape for the men of this world or the men of the next.

He is sexist as all get out, in the way that is common for men of his generation and his radicalism, but he is refreshingly aware of that and working on it. It's just that the work isn't done and if that offends you to see a man in process and still using the 'b' word, look out. Speaking of the easily offended, he warns in his introduction that "life is often profane and obscene, such as the present condition of African American people." If you want pure and holy, he says, read the Quran and the Bible, because Marvin is talking about "the low down dirty truth." For all that, the poetry of Marvin X is like prayer, beauty-full of reverence and honor for Truth. "It is. it is. it is."

A poem to his daughter Muhammida is a sweet mix of parental love and pride and fatherly freak-out at her sexuality and independence, ending humbly with: peace Mu it's on you yo world sister-girl.

Other people don't get off so easy, including a certain "black joint chief of staff ass nigguh (kill 200,000 Muslims in Iraq)" in the sharply aimed poem "Free Me from My Freedom." (Mmm hmm, the 'n' word is all over the place in Marvin too.) Nature poem, wedding poem, depression poem, wake-up call poems, it's all here. Haiti, Rwanda, the Million Man March, Betsy Ross's maid, OJ, Rabin, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and other topics make it into this prophetically voiced collection of dissent poetry, so Islamic and so African American in its language and its themes, a book that will stand in its beauty long after the people mentioned in it pass. READ MARVIN X for RAMADAN!

Mohja Kahf
Associate Professor
Dept. of English & Middle East & Islamic Studies
Love and War: Poems
Click to order via Amazon
by Marvin X. Preface by Lorenzo Thomas
Format: Paperback, 140pp.
ISBN: 0964967200
Publisher: Black Bird Press
Book of poetry by Black Arts activist, preface by Lorenzo Thomas. "When you listen to Tupac Shakur, E-40, Too Short, Master P or any other rappers out of the Bay Area of Cali, think of Marvin X. He laid the foundation and gave us the language to express Black male urban experience in a lyrical way." James G. Spady, Philadelphia New Observer.

Wish I Could Tell You the Truth, EssaysWish I Could Tell You the Truth, Essays
Click to order via Amazon
Paperback: 215 pages
Publisher: Black Bird Press (2005)
Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds

Somethin' Proper: The Life and Times of a North American African Poet Somethin' Proper: The Life and Times of a North American African Poet
Click to order via Amazon
Paperback: 278 pages
Publisher: Black Bird Pr (June 1999)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0964967219
ISBN-13: 978-0964967212
Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches

Marvin X Performing

Land of my daughtersLand of My Daughters: Poem's 1995-2005

Paperback: 116 pages
Publisher: BlackBird Press (2005)
Language: English
Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.1 x 0.4 inches

Pull Yo Pants Up Fada Black Prez and Yo Self!: Essays on Obama Drama
Click to order via Amazon
Publisher: Black Bird Press (2010)

Click to order via Amazon
Publisher: Black Bird Press (2009)

Related Links
Black Bird Press News & Review
A journal dedicated to truth, freedom of speech and radical spiritual consciousness. Our mission is the liberation of men and women from oppression, violence and abuse of any kind, interpersonal, political, religious,economic,psychosexual. We believe as Fidel Castro said, "The weapon of today is not guns but consciousness."

Read: Marvin X Unplugged An Interview by Lee Hubbard

Marvin X Articles on AALBC.com Include
Nigguh Please! by Marvin X

The black culture police are at it again, lead running dog is Rev. Jesse Jackson, perhaps the most hypocritical culture policeman on the scene--especially after leading president Clinton in prayer over Monica while himself engaged in extramarital shenanigans. I can't take Jesse Jackson with his twisted mouth ( from lying) pontificating on moral issues while he is the most immoral of men, even pimping the blood of MLK, Jr.
Movie Reviews by Marvin X on AALBC.com include:
Ali: http://www.aalbc.com/reviews/ali.htm
Baby Boy: http://www.aalbc.com/reviews/baby_boy.htm
Ray: http://www.aalbc.com/reviews/ray.htm
Traffic: http://www.aalbc.com/reviews/traffic.htm

Black Bird Press
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Berkeley CA 94702

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