Marvin X at his Academy of da Corner, 14th and Broadway, downtown Oakland
photo Adam Turner
If you want motivation and inspiration, don't spend all that money going to workshops and seminars, just go stand at 14th and Broadway, downtown Oakland and watch Marvin X at work. He's Plato teaching on the streets of Oakland.... His play One Day in the Life is the most powerful drama I've seen.--Ishmael Reed
Ishmael Reed interviews Marvin X on Ali As A Black Nationalist
San Francisco, January 2004 Black Liberation Book Fair
Some of the pioneers of the 1960s Black Nationalist movement are gathered at a book fair organized by Marvin X, a writer who is much venerated in Black Nationalist circles. Some of those gathered are die heart Maclolmites who are cool to Ali and attribute mainstream acceptance of Ali as the white public gloating over the fact that the man once called “ The Louisville Lip,” has been muzzled by a disability.
Though still regarded with respect, some black nationalists will never forgive Muhammad Ali, their one time hero, for turning his back on Malcolm X, their idol. Some of those who dismissed Joe Frazier as an Uncle Tom are giving Frazier a second look. He is no longer regarded as the usurper who deprived the exiled champion of his glorious comeback. As an example of Joe Frazier’s lack of sophistication was his mistaking “Uncle Tom,” for “Peeping Tom.”
“Malcolm gave me political consciousness. He stood up against America. Ali on the other hand is now speaking on behalf of America.”—Marvin X
Marvin X provides further evidence of the influence that the Nation of Islam had on Muhammad Ali’s decision to forfeit his duty to serve in the armed forces. He provided a biography, which gives a historical background to the presence of African-American Muslims in this country.
“I would like to delineate my lineage. As a spiritual descendant of West African Muslims, I begin my literary biography in the Mali Empire, among those scholar/poet/social activists of Timbuktu: Ahmed Baba, Muhammad El-Mrili, Ahmed Ibn Said, Muhammad Al Wangari, and the later Sufi poet/warriors of Senegal and Hausal and, Ahmedu Bamba and Uthman dan Fodio.
“In America, this literary tradition continued under the wretched conditions of slavery with the English/Arabic narratives of Ayub Suleimon Diallo, Ibrahima Abdulrahman Jallo, Bilali Mohammad, Salih Bilali, Umar Ibn Said. (Note:There is some suggestion that David Walker, Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington and Benjamin Banneker may have been descendants of Muslims.) In 1913,Noble Drew Ali,established his Moorish Science Temple in Newark, New Jersey, later Chicago, and created his Seven Circle Koran, a synthesis of Qur’anic, Masonic, mystical and esoteric writings.
“And most importantly, Master Fard Muhammad arrived in Detroit, 1930, to deliver his Supreme Wisdom, mythological Sufi teachings, to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, later summarized in Elijah's primers of mystical Islamic theology and Black Nationalism, Message To The Black Man and The Theology of Time.
“The next major work is Malcolm X's Autobiography, with the assistance of Alex Haley. This neo-slave narrative bridged ancient and modern Islamic literature in America. Let us also include Louis Farrakhan’s Off-Broadway drama “Organa” and his classic song “A White Man’s Heaven is The Black Man’s Hell,” anthem of the Black revolution of the 60s. Amiri Baraka utilized the Muslim myth of Yacub in his play ‘A Black Mass,’ one of his most powerful works, an examination of the cloning of the white man. Askia Muhammad Toure must be credited for his Islamic writings, along with poetess Sonia Sanchez (Laila Mannan) who served a brief tenure in the Nation of Islam. Yusef Rahman and Yusef Iman created powerful Islamic poetry as well.
Marvin X continued (Black Liberation Book Fair, January 31, 2004)
“Well, you know we both had the draft problem as Muslims. Ali followed Elijah Muhammad’s directive to go to prison instead of going into exile like I did. I went to Canada. I was there about six months. Well because I got tired of Canada. There is an expression, ‘Racism is as Canadian as Hockey.’ First I went to Chicago and linked up with the group around Black World, which was edited by Hoyt Fuller, Haki Madhubuti and others. I was in Chicago when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. After I left Chicago, I went to Harlem. This is now ‘68. I went to New York to work with Ed Bullins at the New Lafayette.
“I went to Montreal for a visit. I had met a girl from Montreal. At the same time there was a struggle at Sir George Williams University. Bobby Seale was up there and a brother from Dominique, I think it was Dominique, Rosy Douglas. There was a student struggle going on; I got busted coming back from Montreal. Coming across the border without papers. And so I [was] put in jail in Plattsburg, New York, and then released on OR [Own Recognizance] and then they gave me a trial date, a court date in San Francisco, for the draft. I was invited to lecture at Fresno State in the Black Studies Department. Richard Keyes was the chair. So actually I was going to two trials. One with Reagan at Fresno Superior Court and one in San Francisco at the Federal Court.
“In 1967, I had met Eldridge Cleaver upon his release from Soledad Prison, who was then working for Ramparts magazine. He was supposed to interview Muhammad Ali, but he couldn’t go because he was under house arrest, so he arranged for me to do the interview. I went to Chicago to wait around for the interview. Muhammad Ali was in Detroit. He finally came back to Chicago. We were at Elijah Muhammad’s house. I saw Elijah Muhammad’s wife, Clara, and Muhammad Ali, but I didn’t see Elijah. Before we got ready to do the interview, Elijah Muhammad called him into a room, and when he came out he said, ‘Elijah Muhammad said not to do the interview.’ That he had said enough about the draft. This was like ’67. Well, we were probably in the house for about an hour. He said that Elijah was ‘the man I am willing to die for so I do what he says.’ Well that’s how most Muslims felt.
Both Black Panther and NOI attitudes about the draft influenced me. That’s why I was in Canada. What I’m saying is that Elijah said, ‘Resist the draft.’ The Panthers said, ‘Resist arrest.’ So I resisted the draft and I resisted arrest. That’s where I was coming from.
“Ali asked me if I needed any money, and I said, ‘Yeah.’ He gave me a hundred dollars. Why did he? I don’t know. I guess maybe it was his personality.
I was at Merritt College with Huey [Newton] and Bobby [Seale] from 1962 to ’64 and we identified with Malcolm X and so I didn’t join the Nation until ’67. I think I was looking for something more than what the Panthers were offering, because I could have easily gone to the Panther Party because they were my friends. It was a spiritual dimension that I was looking for. But I also got some Marxist material from the Panthers. But, you know their Ten Point Program was just a rehashing of the Muslim Program and put into Marxist language.
“Malcolm gave me political consciousness. He stood up against America. Ali on the other hand is now speaking on behalf of America. That’s not really strange for him to do that and I think I say that about him in my review of the movie ‘Ali’ in my book In The Crazy House Called America. He became a follower of Wallace Deen and Wallace Deen has an American flag on his newspaper. So Wallace accepted his American identity and I guess his followers follow that. Wallace left his father before Malcolm. He never came back. Ali said he followed Wallace after Elijah made his transition, because as far as he was concerned, Wallace came with the true Islam, the spiritual Islam, after the Nation had become corrupted. And then Norman Brown told me last night that as far as he was concerned Wallace just bought into Arab Nationalism and Arab racism and turned Negroes into Arabs.”
In his book, In The Crazy House Called America, Marvin X is far more critical of Ali’s move to the right. He blames it on the champion following the teachings of the late Wallace Muhammad. In the book he writes,
“We understand that he [Ali] has been requested to make public service announcements supporting America’s war on terrorism. Would this be a more dramatic ending: the people’s champ who fought against oppression, finally broken down to a servant of the oppressor… the tragic truth is that Ali is a member of Warith Din Muhammad’s sect that was known for flag waving before 9/11. Warith had rejected the teachings of his father, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, in favor of orthodox Islam, dismissing the Black Nationalism of Elijah for Americanism, so it is not whack for President Bush to call upon Ali to be the ‘voice of America’ to the Muslim world, nor for Ali to accept. If indeed, our hero has been co-opted, let us be mature enough to realize humans are not made of stone and we know in real life people change, not always for the good—thus the danger of hero worship and thus the Islamic dictum: nothing deserves to be worshipped except Allah.”
In 1998 I received a three-year grant fromthe Lila Wallace Foundation, which required me to accompany adults, who were learningEnglish at Oakland’s Second Start Literacy Program, to the theater. In the course of threeyears, I saw a number of plays and musicals, many of which were overrated, and quite anumber of which were insulting to minorities, like “Ms. Saigon” and “Rent” and the mostreprehensible of all, “Stonewall’s House,” a play that tried to clean up the Confederateinsurgents’ reputation and which argued that blacks were better off in slavery, andthat because of political correctness, white male playwrights were oppressed. In other words, plays by blacks dominate the Great White Way. The play that I found the mostcompelling was produced by the Black Repertory Theater in Oakland. It was called “ADay In The Life,” and it was written by Marvin X. Like some of the other black revolutionaries of that period, Marvin X turnedto drugs after the disillusionment set in, and the revolution was busted, partially due toa sinister COINTELPRO operation (Counter Intelligence Program). Some of the more vibrant, charismatic and militant of the activists were permitted to morph into non-threatening positions as college professors, where they still engage in correcting those whom they feel are not revolutionary enough. All one has to do is contrast the swell-headed boastfulplay, “Big Time Buck White” in which Muhammad Ali starred, with “A Day In TheLife” to determine the corrosion of the sixties optimism and the pessimism of the currentpolitical climate. Black Nationalists and those on the black left have been among PresidentObama’s harshest critics, while black support for the president has remained in the ninety percent range.Cornel West, whom white progressives were agitating for a run in a primary against thepresident, referred to the president as “a black mascot for Wall Street,” which makesyou wonder why Wall Street backed his opponent, Mitt Romney. Marvin X has calledthe president “a black hangman.” The Marvin X play includes a scene in which the lateBlack Panther leader Huey Newton with whom I appeared on an 1988 ABC TV show (https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=VHL7glIcP4o&feature=share) a year before his assassination over a drug deal gone wrong. In Marvin X’s play he shares a crack pipe with the man who would laterassassinate him.
Inspired by the Harlem Book Fair, Marvin X decided to organize his own.Thus the Black Liberation Book Fair was held in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco,San Francisco’s Skid Row, on January 31, 2004. This event included a veritable Who’s Who of Black Nationalist personalities. With the tendency of the segregated media to tokenize every aspect of African-American life, some of these people are unknown to the general public, but connoisseurs of black politics and culture know about themand recognize their important contribution to the modern slave revolt of the 1960s. Ifanyone would give an unsparing portrait of Muhammad Ali, it would be they. For the 1960s, Muhammad Ali was their leader, but some, like Haki Madhubuti still resent thechampion’s betrayalof Malcolm X, who, among black nationalists, is regarded as a deity.
The book fair was held in the basement of Saint John’s Church. While themedia of the 1960s made a few Civil Rights and Black Power personalities famous, someof those who had worked behind the scenes, those who did the intellectual heavy lifting,were present at this book fair. Poet Askiá Toure, my 1960s roommate, Nathan Hare,the lateSam Greenlee, whose film version of The Spook Who Sat By The Door, about an armed uprising against the government drew the attention of the FBI, and the late Reginald Major, the author of The Black Panther Is A Black Cat, which remains one of the best books on that group’s career.
The Complete Muhammad Ali
“…it will become the truly definitive book on Muhammad Ali.” Professor Sam Hamod, PhD
“twelve solid rounds of writing… stands above its competition.” Ron Jacobs, Counterpunch
More than a biography and ‘bigger than boxing’, The Complete Muhammad Ali is a fascinating portrait of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. Ishmael Reed calls it The Complete Muhammad Ali because most of the hundred odd books about the Champion are “either too adoring or make excessively negative assertions.” They also omit many voices that deserve to be heard.
Ishmael Reed charts Muhammad Ali’s evolution from Black Nationalism to universalism, but gives due credit to the Nation’s of Islam’s and Black Nationalism’s important influence on Ali’s intellectual development. People who led these organizations are given a chance to speak up. Sam X, who introduced Ali to the Nation of Islam, said that without his mentor Elijah Muhammad, nobody would ever have heard of Ali. That remark cannot be ignored.
Reed, an accomplished poet, novelist, essayist and playwright, casts his inquisitive eye on a man who came to represent the aspirations of so many people worldwide and so many causes. He also brings to bear his own experience as an African American public figure, born in the South in the same period, as well as an encyclopaedic grasp of American history.People interviewed include Marvin X, Harry Belafonte, Hugh Masakela, Jack Newfield, Ed Hughes, Emmanuel Steward, Amiri Baraka, Agieb Bilal, Emil Guillermo, Khalilah Ali, Quincy Troupe, Rahaman Ali, Melvin Van Peebles, Ray Robinson, Jr., Ed Hughes, Jesse Jackson, Martin Wyatt, Bennett Johnson, Stanley Crouch, Bobby Seale, and many more.
Reed also places the Muhammad Ali phenomenon in the history of boxing and boxers from before the times of Jack Johnson, through Joe Louis and Archie Moore to Floyd Mayweather. He also includes Canadian fights and fighters like Tommy Burns, George Chuvalo and Yvon Durelle.
“The Heavyweight Championship of the World
,” wrote Reed in a 1976 Village Voice
headline article shortly after third Ali-Norton fight, “is a sex show, a fashion show, scene of intrigue between different religions, politics, classes; a gathering of stars, ex-stars, their hangers-on, and hangers-on assistants.
The author of the much cited Writin’ is Fightin’
has now produced what will likely be known not only as The Complete Muhammad Ali
but also “the definitive Muhammad Ali.”Praise
“great book, a lot of hard work, and I know that it will become the truly definitive book on Muhammad Ali
.” Professor Sam Hamod, PhD; Former Director of The Islamic Center, Washington, DC
is a prize-winning essayist, novelist, poet and playwright. He taught at the University of California-Berkeley for thirty-five years, as well as at Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth. Author of more than twenty-five books, he is a member of Harvard’s Signet Society and Yale’s Calhoun Society. He lives in Oakland, California.
Dr. Mohja Kahf and Marvin X. She invited him to read at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Is Marvin X the Father of Muslim American Literature?
Teaching Diaspora Literature: Muslim American Literature as an Emerging Field
by Dr. Mohja Kahf
Is there such a thing as Muslim American literature (MAL)? I argue that there is: It begins with the Muslims of the Black Arts Movement (1965-75). The Autobiography of Malcolm X is one of its iconic texts; it includes American Sufi writing, secular ethnic novels, writing by immigrant and second-generation Muslims, and religious American Muslim literature. Many of the works I would put into this category can and do also get read in other categories, such as African American, Arab American, and South Asian literature, "Third World" women's writing, diasporic Muslim literature in English, and so forth. While the place of these works in other categories cannot be denied, something is gained in reading them together as part of an American Muslim cultural landscape. Like Jewish American literature by the 1930s, Muslim American literature is in a formative stage. It will be interesting to see how it develops (and who will be its Philip Roth!)
I suggest the following typology of MAL only as a foothold, a means of bringing a tentative order to the many texts, one that should be challenged, and maybe ultimately dropped altogether. My first grouping, the "Prophets of Dissent," suggests that Muslim works in the Black Arts Movement (BAM) are the first set of writings in American literature to voice a cultural position identifiable as Muslim. Contemporary Muslim writing that takes the achievements of the BAM as an important literary influence also belongs here, and is characterized similarly by its "outsider" status, moral critique of mainstream American values, and often prophetic, visionary tone. In contrast, the writers of what I call "the Multi-Ethnic Multitudes" tend to enjoy "insider" status in American letters, often entering through MFA programs and the literary establishment, getting published through trade and university book industries, garnering reviews in the mainstream press. They do not share an overall aesthetic but are individual writers of various ethnicities and a wide range of secularisms and spiritualities, and indeed I question my placing them all in one group, and do so temporarily only for the sake of convenience.
On the other hand, my third group, the "New American Transcendentalists," appears to cohere, in aesthetic terms, as writers who share a broad Sufi cultural foundation undergirding their literary work. Their writings often show familiarity with the Sufi poets of several classical Muslim literatures (e.g., in Turkish, Farsi, Arabic, Urdu), as well as with American Transcendentalists of the nineteenth century, and that which tends toward the spiritual and the ecstatic in modern American poetry. Finally, the "New Pilgrims" is my term for a loose grouping of writers for whom Islam is not merely a mode of dissent, cultural background, or spiritual foundation for their writing, but its aim and explicit topic. Of the four groups, the New Pilgrims are the ones who write in an overtly religious mode and motivation, like Ann Bradstreet, Cotton Mather, and the Puritans of early American history. This does not prevent them from being capable of producing great literature, any more than it prevented the great Puritan writers. Here is an example of just a few writers in each category, by no means a comprehensive list:
Prophets of Dissent
From the Black Arts Movement:
• Marvin X, whose Fly to Allah
(1969) is possibly the first book of poems published in English by a Muslim American author.
• Sonia Sanchez, whose A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women
(1974) is the work of her Muslim period.
• Amiri Baraka, whose A Black Mass
(2002) renders the Nation of Islam's Yacoub genesis theology into drama. As with Sanchez, the author was Muslim only briefly but the influence of the Islamic period stretches over a significant part of his overall production.
Later Prophets of Dissent include:
• Calligraphy of Thought, the Bay area poetry venue for young "Generation M" Muslim American spoken word artists who today continue in the visionary and dissenting mode of the BAM.
• Suheir Hammad, Palestinian New Yorker, diva of Def Poetry Jam
(on Broadway and HBO), whose tribute to June Jordan in her first book of poetry, Born Palestinian, Born Black
establishes her line of descent from the BAM, at least as one (major) influence on her work.
• El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) is an iconic figure for this mode of Muslim American writing and, indeed, for many writers in all four categories.
• Kashmiri American poet Agha Shahid Ali, an influential figure in the mainstream American poetry scene, with a literary prize named after him at the University of Utah, brought the ghazal into fashion in English so that it is now taught among other forms in MFA programs.
• Naomi Shihab Nye, Palestinian American, likewise a "crossover" poet whose work enjoys
prominence in American letters, takes on Muslim content in a significant amount of her
• Sam Hamod, an Arab midwesterner who was publishing poetry in journals at the same time as Marvin X.
• Nahid Rachlin's fiction has been published since well before the recent wave of literature by
others who, like her, are Iranian immigrants.
• Mustafa Mutabaruka, an African American Muslim, debut novel Seed (2002).
• Samina Ali, midwesterner of Indian parentage, debut novel Madras on Rainy Days (2004),
was featured on the June 2004 cover of Poets & Writers.
• Khaled Hosseini, debut novel The Kite Runner (2003).
• Michael Muhammad Knight, a Muslim of New York Irish Catholic background, whose punk rock novel The Taqwacores (2004) delves deeply into Muslim identity issues.
• There are a number of journals where Muslim American literature of various ethnicities can
be found today, among them Chowrangi, a Pakistani American magazine out of New
Jersey, and Mizna, an Arab American poetry magazine out of Minneapolis.
New American Transcendentalists
• Daniel (Abd al-Hayy) Moore is an excellent example of this mode of Muslim American writing. California-born, he published as a Beat poet in the early sixties, became a Sufi Muslim, renounced poetry for a decade, then renounced his renouncement and began publishing again, prolifically and with a rare talent. His Ramadan Sonnets (City Lights, 1986) is a marriage of content and form that exemplifies the "Muslim/American" simultaneity of Muslim American art.
• The Rumi phenomenon: apparently the most read poet in America is a Muslim. He merits mention for that, although technically I am not including literature in translation. Then again, why not? As with so many other of my limits, this is arbitrary and only awaits someone to make a case against it.
• Journals publishing poetry in this mode include The American Muslim, Sufi, Qalbi, and others.
New American Pilgrims
• Pamela Taylor writes Muslim American science fiction. Iman Yusuf writes "Islamic
romance." This group of writers is not limited to genre writers, however.
Dasham Brookins writes and performs poetry and maintains a website, MuslimPoet.com, where poets such as Samantha Sanchez post. Umm Zakiyya (pseud.) has written a novel, If I Should Speak (2001), about a young Muslim American and her roommates in college. Writers in this group also come from many ethnicities but, unlike those in my second category, come together around a more or less coherent, more or less conservative Muslim identity.
Websites tend to ban erotica and blasphemy, for example. The Islamic Writers Alliance, a group formed by Muslim American women, has just put out its first anthology. Major published authors have yet to emerge in this grouping, but there is no reason to think they will not eventually do so. My criteria for Muslim American literature are a flexible combination of three factors: Muslim authorship. Including this factor, however vague or tenuous, prevents widening the scope to the point of meaninglessness, rather than simply including any work about Muslims by an author with no biographical connection to the slightest sliver of Muslim identity (such as Robert Ferrigno with his recent dystopian novel about a fanatical Muslim takeover of America). It is a cultural, not religious, notion of Muslim that is relevant. A "lapsed Muslim" author, as one poet on my roster called himself, is still a Muslim author for my purposes. I am not interested in levels of commitment or practice, but in literary Muslimness.
Language and aesthetic of the writing.
In a few cases, there is a deliberate espousal of an aesthetic that has Islamic roots, such as the Afrocentric Islamic aesthetic of the Muslim authors in the Black Arts Movement.
Relevance of themes or content.
If the Muslim identity of the author is vague or not explicitly professed, which is often the case with authors in the "Multi-Ethnic Multitudes," but the content itself is relevant to Muslim American experience, I take that as a signal that the text is choosing to enter the conversation of Muslim American literature and ought to be included.In defining boundaries for research that could become impossibly diffuse, I choose to look mainly at fiction and poetry, with autobiography and memoir writings selectively included. I have not included writings in languages other than English, although there are Muslims in America who write in Arabic, Urdu, and other languages.
I have looked at the twentieth century onward, and there is archival digging to be done in earlier periods: the Spanish colonial era may yield Muslim writing, and we already know that some enslaved Muslims in the nineteenth century have left narratives. More research is needed. If one expands the field from "literature" to "Muslim American culture," one can also include Motown, rap, and hip-hop lyrics by Muslim artists, screenplays such as the Muslim American classic The Message
by the late Syrian American producer Mustapha Aqqad, books written for children, sermons, essays, and other genres.There are pleasures and patterns that emerge from reading this profusion of disparate texts under the rubric of Muslim American cultural narrative. It is time! I hope, as this field emerges, that others will do work in areas I have left aside in this brief initial exploration.
Cover design by Emory
Love And War poemsby Marvin Xpreface by Lorenzo Thomas1995
Reviewby 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.
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:
it's on you
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, University of Arkansas-Fayetteville
Two Poems for the People of Syria by Marvin X and Mohja Kahf
Oh, Mohjahow much water can run from rivers to seahow much blood can soak the earththe guns of tyrants know no enda people awakened are bigger than bulletsthere is no sleep in their eyesno more stunted backs and fear of broken limbseven men, women and children are humble with sacrificethe old the young play their roleswith smiles they endure torture chamberswith laughs they submit to rape and mutilationsthere is no victory for oppressorswhose days are numberedas the clock ticks as the sun riseslet the people continue til victorysurely they smell it on their handstaste it on lipsbelieve it in their heartsknow it in their mindsno more backwardness no fearlet there be resistance til victory.--Marvin X/El Muhajir
Syrian poet/professor Dr. Mohja Kahf
PALESTINE by Marvin X (Imam Maalik El Muhajir)
I am not an Arab, I am not a Jew
Abraham is not my father, Palestine is not my home
But I would fight any man
Who kicked me out of my house
To dwell in a tent
I would fight
To the ends of the earth
Someone who said to me
I want your house
Because my father lived here
Two thousand years ago
I want your land
Because my father lived here
Two thousand years ago.
Jets would not stop me
From returning to my home
Uncle toms would not stop me
Cluster bombs would not stop me
Bullets I would defy.
No man can take the house of another
And expect to live in peace
There is no peace for thieves
There is no peace for those who murder
For myths and ancient rituals
Wail at the wall
Settle in "Judea" and "Samaria"
But fate awaits you
You will never sleep with peace
You will never walk without listening.
I shall cross the River Jordan
With Justice in my hand
I shall return to Jerusalem
And establish my house of peace,
Thus said the Lord.
© 2000 by Marvin X (Imam Maalik El Muhajir)
Marvin X has been invited to New York
to address the Zulu Nation (ASAP)
Marvin X at San Francisco Juneteenth, 2015, Fillmore
Marvin X at his Academy of da Corner, 14th and Broadway, downtown Oakland.
Brazilian dancers at Academy of da Corner at San Francisco's Juneteenth
Russian woman stops to help poet collate his pamphlete Mythology of Pussy and Dick
She said, "I see what you are doing. I did it for thirty years, let me help you." Marvin let her help him.
Marvin X and the next generation Brother Nubian. "We must pass the baton! We are the elders, soon we shall be the ancestors! We must thus speak to the living, the dead and the yet unborn!When I look at my grandchildren, I have no illusion about life and death. I only know I must give them all the wisdom I have so they can carry on."says Marvin X. "But at three years old, my grandson told me, 'Grandpa, you can't save the world, but I can!'" When he said this, I knew I could die in peace. Therefore, I am not seeking a long life, I'm ready to go at any time. Prophet Muhammad said live like you are going to die tomorrow, and live like you are going to live forever." After learning my history, my daughter asked, "Father why are you still living?" I am still alive because no matter that my friends were killers, I out thought them. That is the only reason I am alive. You must out think your enemy and your friends to stay alive."
Poet Samantha with Tarika Lewis on violin in background
performing with Marvin X's Black Arts Movement Poets Choir and Arkestra at Laney College, Feb. 7, 2015
Princess Samantha delivering her lines. Samantha is Ghanaian and North American African, grew up in Harlem, graduated from Spelman College, a New World African Woma. She is so serious. Oh, these young women are so serious. Hey, let them take the baton and run with it. I am just happy to be alive to see the changing of the guard.
Queen Mother Kujichagulia, multi-talented master griot/jejali
Val Serrant, master percussionist from Trinidad, always at the beck and call of Marvin X and BAM
Poet Samantha in a swoon before doing her thang in a masterful manner.
Aqueila Lewis, Ms Erotica
The Master teacher, Marvin X. A man came to his Academy of da Corner to ask him what is the meaning of the white face? The Master answered, "The white painted face goes back 50 thousand years, depending on the myth-ritual. It could be a manhood rites of passage or womahood rites of passage. It could be a marriage rite, a funeral rite, a warrior rite, it is so ancient and remote, we cannot be exact, but it goes back into aboriginal time, into myth-ritual time. The brother was satisfied with the answer and did not question the teacher further.
Paradise, who taught us They Love Everything About Us But Us. What a lesson.
Kalamu Chache', poet
Dr. Ayodele Nzinga, Marvin X's top student, now a master in her own right as producer, playwright
She is about to complete the full cycle of the August Wilson plays for the first time in history
Manifesto of Academy of da Corner
14th and Broadway, downtown Oakland
"Marvin X is Plato teaching on the streets of Oakland."
--Ishmael Reed, author The Complete Muhammad Ali, including a chapter long interview with Marvin X
Academy of da Corner is a continuation of the Black Arts Movement,
an educational/ performance/academic/activist project to inspire the Cultural Revolution in North American Africans, with implications for the rest of humanity that apparently follows closely every cultural move of North American Africans. We can't fart without the world copying our fart. So perhaps we should be flattered except for the fact that often imitation becomes exploitation and we become victims of our own creations, e.g., "Lord, look what they did to my song."
Nevertheless, we shall strive forward with our cultural revolution to transform the negative aspects of our lives into the positive, to reconnect our community, parents with children, males with females, brother to brother and sister to sister, yes, even enemies must reconcile in the spirit of recovery, healing and liberation of the entire community. This is the challenge of the new millennium and we shall not move forward without meeting it. Either we are brave warriors willing to face the jihad within ourselves and our community, or we're cowards prepared to tread water until we become extinct, a forgotten people, relics of a glorious past but no future except a multicultural chasm where we exist on the last rung of the ladder, simply because we refuse to transcend our differences for the greater good, thus succumbing to a low intensity war determined to destroy us politically, economically, morally and culturally.
Academy of da Corner/Black Arts Movement Poets Choir and Arkestra: The Performance and Educational Arm of the Cultural Revolution
As Fidel Castro has said, our weapon is consciousness, yes, it is the only weapon we have that can defeat the forces allied against us. Consciousness is an awareness of our traditions and our mission. Our tradition is a freedom loving people, not political, economic and cultural slaves to others. We reject the slave tradition of clowning and buffoonery so evident in African American artistic expression today, especially movies and rap (now called yap, for rap derived from the tradition of revolutionary spoken word: H. Rap Brown, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Last Poets, Baraka, Sonia, Askia, Haki, X, and yes, Malcolm, Martin, Kwame Toure, Fannie Lou, Queen Mother Moore, Angela).
If one is not aspiring to be in the tradition of Paul Robeson, i.e., the artistic freedom fighter, then one has no right to claim membership in the Black Arts Movement, and is therefore merely a whore for capitalist pimps, ready to wear any clown suit, do any shuffle, say any jingle and rhyme, put on any make up and dance for the master's American bandstand, manifesting the cultural hate personified by the likes of Michael Jackson and others too numerous to mention.
No people with consciousness would allow themselves to be paraded on BET, MTV and elsewhere as naked whores, pseudo gangstas and wannabe pimps. Although we are about artistic freedom and freedom of speech, we reject phony black bourgeoisie culture police who are themselves guilty of a profane and obscene lifestyle of conspicuous consumption, yet we demand African American artists get in harmony with our tradition and mission to use our creativity to help liberate the deaf, dumb and blind, not take them deeper into the devil's den of iniquity.
Academy of da Corner/Black Arts Movement Poets Choir and Arkestra Will Speak Truth to Power
Academy of da Corner/Black Arts Movement Poets Choir and Arkestra will perform works that liberate not desecrate. Rappers have given us graphic descriptions of our psychosocial condition, now we must come with solutions. If you hate yo daddy and mama, show me how you turned hate into love, show me how you sought reconciliation and unconditional love. Otherwise, you are simply yapping nursery rhymes, snibbling like snotty nose babies too pitiful to wake up and release your lips from your mother's breasts, you ungrateful bastards! Grow up, did mama tell you life was a bowl of cherries—you are lucky to have a mother and father—think of all the children who are products of foster care.
We were not brought to America to create families, but to be mules, donkeys and horses, to have our families utterly destroyed for capitalism and slavery. And we can only overcome America's plan for us by putting on the armour of God and standing tall together, defying America's hope for our continued subservience and debauchery. Aw, Jesus said be in this world but no of this world. After all, it is an illusion, a world of make believe, a world of materialism and conspicuous consumption.
Poets and spoken word artists have an obligation to speak truth to power, not submit gleefully, yapping nonsense around the world to make a dollar and make mockery of the elders, calling them "broke heroes," although the so-called broke heroes are the reason you are among the newly rich because of their sacrifice and unconditional love for your punk bitch little asses.
The American Educational System Is An Abysmal Failure
Since the American educational system has failed to teach Johnny and Johnnymae how to read, write and most of all, think, the Academy of da Corner shall see it as a priority to teach basic skills. How can we have a drama class in which students are unable to read the script. I have taught such classes on the college and university level, so I know the degree of the problem. Don't try to cover ignorance and mental retardation as a result of America's public school miseducation.
Academy of da Corner/Black Arts Movement Poets Choir and Arkestra will train students with talent in the arts: drama, dance, music, creative writing, nonfiction, poetry and spoken word, for these are serious crafts that take discipline and training, not a jack in the box game of jingles and rhymes produced because one can memorize words that are full of sound and fury signifying nothing, although audiences are enraptured by the nothingness and babble, rewarding the jester with money at poetry Slams/Scams, deluding the person that he/she is a poet and spoken word master because of his/her natural talent as a product of the ancient African oral tradition.
Racism is the abomination of the new world, but Elijah Muhammad used racism and black supremacy as an anti-toxin to white supremacy. The Black Arts Movement
did the same. Whites were often banned from attending performances and certainly from performing in productions. Harold Cruse noted how this marked a radical departure from traditional Negro theatre (see Crisis of the Negro Intellectual
). Thus BAM
was of, for, and by Black people, if only for a moment, time enough to get “ourselves” together. This moment was necessary to raise a people from the dead, who were full of fear after being terrorized for centuries by white supremacy.
Why is this so difficult to understand, perhaps because there are those in denial about the ravages of white supremacy on North American African minds, to say nothing about what it has done to delusional white minds. Why should victims of liars and murderers want them in our presence? How can we recover with them in our midst? Can the rape victim recover with the rapist in her bed?
Even today, American racism and capitalism/globalism is the scorn of the earth, blood sucking the poor in the name of global free trade, caring nothing for the rights of poor nations to economic parity. You consume the world’s energy for the greedy privilege of driving SUVs and having a television in every room, left on 24/7. You have no intention of dealing with the root causes of terrorism: poverty, ignorance, and disease.
Until you do so, you will become a prisoner in your own land, afraid of those outside your borders and those within whom you’ve equally mistreated, abused and falsely accused of being criminals, unworthy to share in the fruits of their labor and that of their ancestors, while white descendants enjoy the surplus capital from centuries of slave labor.
Our primary concern was then and is now ourselves. You are dangerous to our health, mental, physical, and spiritual, unless you have radicalized your consciousness, or shall we say become blackenized, certainly all vestiges of white supremacy must be processed out of your consciousness. Those whites who have worked on themselves we welcome as allies, brothers and sisters in revolution.
It is not the nature of North American Africans to hate and exclude. We can be nationalists and internationalists, i.e., Pan Africanists, Aboriginial Black Man, without hating and excluding. But we do have the human right to do for self as others do, whites, Latinos, Asians, gays, lesbians, and others of every race, sex and creed.
We must not be afraid to become economically self-sufficient. We were in better economic shape under segregation, yes, when we were Negroes, now we’re black and don’t have a decent restaurant or hotel in any American city.
We have thousands of religious houses where the people receive their dose of opium as a form of social control to delay the day of our liberation, where people are taught fairy tales and nursery rhymes about a sky god who died on the cross for our sins. What have African Americans done but be loyal slaves, down to this present moment we are dying in Iraq defending liars and murderers.
Finally, racism is a component of capitalism. We cannot be capitalists because we have no capital! We hardly have one black bank in America. Where are our African American global markets? We might sell a few raps songs in Europe and Asia, but do we sell a blackmobile, trucks, socks, toilet paper, matches? At least Mexico produces their own oil, gasoline, soap, toilet paper. Why can't 40 million North American African produce one roll of toilet paper?
Black Studies and Academy of da Corner
Although black studies derived from the efforts of black revolutionary students, with the demise of the liberation struggle, radical instructors and scholars were removed and replaced with academically "qualified" collaborators and trusted colonial servants, unconcerned with the original mission of black studies: to uplift the community. As a result, for every one brother going to college, four go to prison. For the most part, black studies is a sham, a place for tenured Negroes to keep a job for life unless they rock the boat by teaching radical ideas found to be politically incorrect by their academic masters.
Black Studies began in revolution, but has succumb to reaction and irrelevance with respect to providing a leadership role in uplifting the community. Where is a truly radical black studies department? Where in America is one black radical college or university? Even under Zionist occupation, Palestinians have their radical universities.
Please don't mention the Negro colleges and universities, mainly outhouses for training house slaves who escape the hood into corporate America and never look back. Of course the white colleges and universities do the same. Isn't it interesting that Dr. Ben couldn't find a black academic institution to donate his thirty thousand volume library? He gave it to the Nation of Islam, which is very ironic in light of his history of anti-Islamic pronouncements.
As a consequence of the above, the Academy of da Corner must step to the front line of community education; it must become an institution for the training of radical scholars and social activists who will fulfill the original mission of black studies by attacking illiteracy, joblessness, economic empowerment, addictions, mental and physical health issues and spiritual poverty caused by excessive religiosity. Academic subjects will be considered for their relevance to life issues as we confront America's low intensity war on a daily basis.
Gender Studies and Academy of da Corner
Marvin X has had a spiritual relationship with his muse Fahizah Alim, she has inspired him and he has inspired her life work.
This married woman said Marvin X inspired her to be a better person, to love her husband even more. She thanks Marvin X for his writings.
The Arabic word nisa has two meanings depending on syllable stress. One meaning is woman, another meaning is to forget. Long ago, Warith Din Muhammad gave a lecture on how men forget women. More recently, Amina Baraka exhorted me and her husband, Amiri, not to forget women, to respect them always, especially for their contribution to our liberation struggle: "Remember the women of history, remember Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, remember Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Queen Mother Moore, remember Ella Collins," Amina cried.
Academy of da Corner must address problems in male/female relations since such problems directly impact healthy family and community development. Mrs. Baraka was addressing two poets, both having the artistic sensibility and insensitivity to become emotionally detached from women, children and men in our quest for creativity, thinking a poem is more important than the human being. (Of course Amiri Baraka is qualified to speak for himself, but since I know him, I'm taking the liberty to place him in the boat with me, other poets and artists in general.)
If men of intelligence can be so detached, imagine the behavior of men with lesser intelligence. Perhaps this is why the divorce courts and the anger management programs are full. Men just don't get it and some have no intention to "get it." It will take generations before the patriarchal mentality subsides, if then, although great strides have been made in male/female equality. Now we are in danger of women getting revenge after coming into power situations. They want to oppress. Go before a female judge with a domestic violence case!
But the socialization of males and females must be examined to explore better, healthier methods of interpersonal relations. How can women who love talking endlessly, communicate with men who will go silent when approached on critical matters? "Do you hear me, man," the woman says, "Then why don't you say something?" In the TS Eliot poem the women say, "That is not what I meant, that is not what I meant at all. . . ."
Male education must involve manhood rites that allow them to explore male psychology and female psychology, and the same for women. So often we come together not knowing a damn thing about each other, until it is too late, two or three children later, several ass whippings later.
Men must learn to understand and treat females as equal but different human beings. The idea is not to make men more feminine, but to understand their natural selves and gain a more precise understanding of the opposite sex. Mythologically speaking, understand the function of the sky god and the earth mother goddess. One is the protector, one the nurturer. Today the situation is such that the woman needs protection from the protector!
And the man feels his nurturer is somehow his enemy, the very person he sleeps with he is terrified of, and often the woman feels the same. What kind of horror story is this?
Moving from myth to nature, roosters will not become hens, bulls will not become cows, so stop trying to reverse nature, although it is urgent that we understand the nature of human psychology, understand different functions of each sex, responsibilities, desires, drives and dreams. Often men are indeed lost in the stars, while women are usually forced to stay grounded in reality. As Joseph Campbell explains, men must be taught they are approaching manhood. Women know they are approaching womanhood at the first cycle—they can see, feel, touch, smell womanhood, but men need a ritual: they must come out of the sky and go into the bush to be terrified into the reality of manhood.
Men must at least listen to the dreams of women, even if we reject their dreams, and women must do the same—ultimately a compromise can and must be found. It shall never be again, "Your way or no way," although men will attempt to maintain male privilege until the sky falls—look up, brother, the sky is falling!
And women, in their new found aggression and power positions, will push their agenda at every turn, forcing men to react violently, "Bitch, I don't want to hear nothing you got to say. Shut the fuck up." But she's not going to shut up and she ain't going away—you may leave her for another woman but strangely it will be the same woman with another name. A woman is a woman is a woman is a woman, stupid!
So before there can be unity, there must be understanding. The main thing is not to oppress each other, especially since we're both freshly out of slavery. Men often feel the double-edged sword of oppression from the black woman and the white man. And women feel the same sword blade from the white man and the black man. If we, males and females, would recognize we're not enemies but friends and lovers, sailing in the same love boat, we'll be at least halfway free!
When women are at the top of their game, they have the unique ability to get anything they want from men, sometimes with the glance of an eye, a stride, a smile, the tone of her voice can totally disarm a man. Call it feminine charm or whatever, but women have been successful throughout the ages. With her newfound power, do not forget her ancient secrets that worked for thousands of years, giving her the ability to be a helpmate to great men and tearing down great men when in rage and frustration.
Consider the Children
These twisted male/female relationships have profound implications for the children. When the male departs from the jungle to the forest, the child, especially the male child, is soon out of control, usually by age 15. He is in absolute rebellion against his mother's agenda, although her agenda is often bisexual because she is forced to don the persona of the female/male. The young man's hatred is directed at the female side of the mask, although he harbors a distinct hatred for his missing father as well. So consider his rage, just as his hormones are kicking in. Again, the need for manhood training. But even with females, there is a need and desire for father's love that she will search for in fatherless young men or dirty old men!
Likewise, with young males, the hatred is transferred to girlfriends whom they verbally and physically abuse. This hatred is expressed in the poetic language of rap songs. Healing such shattered young lives is the task of mental health specialists such as Dr. Nathan Hare's Black Reconstruction mental health group sessions that he is calling to be established across America. In the interim, hip hop youth use poetry, sometimes unconsciously, for peer counseling, and this is all good. The University of Poetry must address such stress and strains in the personality of males and females, urging them to use poetry as a healing tool in their lives, let poetry be a bridge for reconciliation rather than a vehicle to only express pain and rage between the sexes and the generations.
If we were against gay and lesbian poets, there would be little poetry to read, since the arts seem to be the home of many gay people. Imagine a world without Langston Hughes or James Baldwin, or Audre Lorde and June Jordan. So my attitude is what does sex have to do with being a poet—nothing! A poet must understand human sexuality in general. A poet stuck on being gay is not a poet, for what happens when he or she must put on the persona of a man or woman, or a tree for that matter. A poet must transcend all sexuality in order to understand the universal human spirit that is, yes, beyond a particular sexual orientation. Gays and lesbians might sometimes have a more sensitive spirit, but every poet, whether gay or straight, must have a sensitive spirit.
Did Baldwin write as a gay or as a writer of the human condition? After my 1968 interview with him, I remarked to Ed Bullins, “He talked like a man.” Ed said, “He damn sho did.” Alas, Baldwin wrote the script for Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X. If he had been trapped in his gayness, how could he have written a script about a hero who symbolized black manhood? When people questioned whether he was qualified to write the script because of his gayness, Baldwin said, “Hey, I pay my rent, I write what I want to write.”
In the video version of my play One Day In The Life, a gay actor portrays my son. If he had not transcended his gayness, he wouldn’t have been in my play. So he was in my play because he was a great actor. At the audition for my play in New York, a gay brother tried out for the part but couldn’t transcend his sexuality. My daughter was casting director, and when I told her to let the guy read the part again, she said, “No, Daddy, no. Let me handle this. He got to go!”
So we have no time to condemn people for their sexual orientation. We might thereby condemn the goose laying the golden egg. We could use another Baldwin or Langston right about now to help free us from this precipice.
But I say to those who passed legislation permitting sex between consenting adults, and in California one of them was then Assemblyman Willie L. Brown, if gays can be with gays and lesbians with lesbians, then men who love prostitutes should be allowed to be with their sex workers in peace, not sneaking around in the alley like a broke dick dog, arrested and cars seized. Yes, legalize prostitution. Lakum dinu kum waliya din: to you your way and to me mine.