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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

This Week in BAM History: BAM at BAM, 1971

Forty-two years ago—March 6, 1971 to be precise—BAM was one of three venues in the NYC region to take part in a three-day festival of poetry, New Black Poets in America 1971. Organized by the influential poet and playwright Amiri Baraka, the festival showcased nearly three dozen emerging African-American poets in three venues over three consecutive days. Most of the participants in the festival were associated with the Black Arts Movement (or BAM, as it's referred to), which was at its peak in 1971. (The other two participating venues were the Apollo Theater and Newark’s Temple B’nai Abraham.)

While the overall list of poets performing in the festival is impressive—notables include Clarence Major, Jayne Cortez, and Sonia Sanchez—the list of BAM poets who performed at BAM on March 6 is particularly impressive. Baraka himself performed, alongside Don L. Lee (who later changed his name to Haki R. Madhubuti), Carolyn Rodgers, Quincy Troupe, Ed Bullins, and a 28-year-old Nikki Giovanni, among others.

Amiri Baraka
Baraka, at this point, was no stranger to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Slave Ship, one of his signature plays, was presented here by the Chelsea Theater Center the year before, with original music by jazz legend Archie Shepp. The year before that, on Friday October 10, 1969, BAM offered a double dose of Amiri Baraka (who at that point was still known as LeRoi Jones): He shared a bill with the interplanetary jazz explorer Sun Ra, and, earlier in the evening, the film version of his explosive Dutchman was screened in a double feature with Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend. Indeed, what a weekend it must have been.

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