Amiri Baraka and the Black Arts Movement: Redefining Black Literary Aesthetic

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2015 Annual Convention of Northeast Modern Language Association (NEMLA)
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The recent death of Amiri Baraka, the co-founder of the Black Arts Movement (BAM), offers a unique opportunity to assess his legacy, the movement, and the current direction of African American literature. As a poet, Baraka’s work embodied the role of the Black artist/activist as one who ‘re-evaluate[s] the western aesthetic...the social function of the artist…and develops a new Black aesthetic’ – ideals outlined in Larry Neal’s manifesto, ‘The Black Arts Movement.’ In addition, BAM birthed numerous artistic innovations, in particular a reemphasis on orality and the call and response tradition. Contemporary rap and spoken word poetry are the beneficiaries of BAM, yet both are frequently excluded and/or marginalized as part of the African American literary tradition. Similar to the poets and artists of the BAM era, contemporary writers, poets, and artists are reshaping, redefining, and reimaging a dynamic Black literary aesthetic – one more inclusive of the political, social, and cultural concerns of a new millennium. Using BAM as the milieu for this discussion, this panel seeks critical and creative papers that offer an interdisciplinary approach for accessing, redefining, and evaluating a Black literary aesthetic for the twenty-first century. In particular, the discussion will focus on the manner in which various contemporary cultural workers – visual arts, creative writers, musicians, and scholars – continue to shape and redefine a Black aesthetic. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

• Identity versus class politics
• Gender and sexuality
• Popular culture and the political/social aspects of contemporary African American literature
• Digital humanities as a tool for social critique
• Transnationalism
• Language/African American vernacular
• Post-soul aesthetic

Panelists are encouraged to consider contemporary, canonical, and non-canonical works in their presentation. Papers that use the Black Arts Movement and/or Amiri Baraka as a milieu are highly encouraged. Submit a 500-word abstract of your paper by September 20, 2014 via the NeMLA website ( This year, NeMLA has implemented a user-based system to accept and track abstract submissions. In order to submit an abstract using the button for a CFP entry, you must sign up with NeMLA and log in. Using this new system, you can manage your personal information and review and update your abstract following submission.

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