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Maximum Feasible ParticipationAmerican Literature and the War on Poverty$
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Stephen Schryer

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781503603677

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9781503603677.001.0001

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Black Arts and the Great Society

Black Arts and the Great Society

(p.51) 2 Black Arts and the Great Society
Maximum Feasible Participation

Stephen Schryer

Stanford University Press

This chapter discusses two Black Arts writers who benefited from War on Poverty patronage: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Gwendolyn Brooks. In The System of Dante’s Hell and In the Mecca, the two writers developed distinct versions of participatory art. Like much of Baraka’s Beat-period work, The System of Dante’s Hell thematizes his dissatisfaction with the white counterculture and desire to create art that could connect him with black urban audiences. However, the novel draws on the counterculture’s essentialist conception of lower-class culture in ways that would continue to shape Baraka’s cultural nationalist output of the late 1960s. In contrast, Brooks’s In the Mecca rejects the immersive drama that defines Baraka’s Black Arts. Inspired by her Community Action Program–sponsored work with Chicago’s Blackstone Rangers, the collection insists that minority poets use the resources of poetic form to achieve a calibrated distance from their lower-class subjects.

Keywords:   Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), The System of Dante’s Hell, Gwendolyn Brooks, In the Mecca, Black Arts movement, African American literature, juvenile delinquency, Blackstone Rangers, process art

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