Passing On: Amiri Baraka, Suzan-Lori Parks, Claudia Rankine

January 22, 2014

James Baldwin probably felt a tinge of jealousy at the sight of Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison at his funeral. Thousands of people there, and those three in particular, so eloquent in their tribute, but also using their voice to mark his lack of one.

Yeah, probably some jealousy, the jealousy of the dead for the living. But on the whole he must have been satisfied, knowing there was no danger that there would be silence after he was gone.

And Amiri Baraka? Again, thousands of people at his funeral. A procession of African drums and jazz trumpets following his coffin down the Newark Symphony Hall; Danny Glover and Jesse Jackson presiding; a poem written for him by Maya Angelou being read by Sonia Sanchez; and Toni Medina reciting this: “Baraka spoke in a language of Bopulicitous intent/ James Brown black Langston Hughes blue/ Mouth of Malcolm Baldwin eyes/ Big as suns and moons…”

And two not there in person, but there in spirit: Suzan-Lori Parks, collaborating with Diane Paulus and Diedre Murray on the new Porgy and Bess; Suzan-Lori Parks, getting on the wrong side of Stephen Sondheim; Claudia Randine, with Martin Espada at the Dodge Poetry Fest; Claudine Randine, getting into a fight with Tony Hoagland over the racial politics of his poem, “The Change”…

Theater, poetry, collaboration, controversy: all those things that he loved, still going strong. Yeah, he probably felt a tinge of jealousy as well. But on the whole, satisfaction, an easy passing on.La

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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