For Black History Month, every Friday in Stanza we’re highlighting a different movement that was essential to African American poetry—and the literary landscape of America overall. Last week we took a look at Négritude, which was marked by its rejection of European colonization and its pride in “blackness” and traditional African values and culture.
The innovative poetics of the Harlem Renaissance, which incorporated jazz, the blues, and the African American vernacular; the advocacy of Négritude; and the desire for a new black identity and consciousness—characteristic of both movements—resurfaced in the form of the Black Arts movement of the 1960s. Born of the turbulent socio-political landscape of the time and closely related to the Black Power movement, the Black Arts movement sought to create politically engaged work that explored the African American cultural and historical experience and transformed the way African Americans were portrayed in literature and the arts.
The Black Arts movement, with its controversial, highly politicized content and experimental style, led the way for many writers who sought to use poetry as a tool of rhetoric, a means of political discourse, a defense against societal ills, and a tool for social change. That tradition, while not new to American poetry, found what is likely its most charged and effective example in the Black Arts movement, which continues to influence contemporary poets today.