His own work was also published in a wide variety of literary magazines several of which were prestigious and nationally respected. His publication and involvement in publishing impressive accomplishments for an African-American man in the United States in the 1960's (Woodward, 1999).
In 1957 he moved to Greenwich Village in New York and became interested in both in jazz and the Beat Movement. The following year he began the Totem Press (I have seen this referenced as Yugen).
The Beat Generation -- later just "The Beats" or the beatniks -- were a collection of writers centered first in New York and later in San Francisco. While there was a great deal of variation among the artists, they were joined to each other by a common rejection of mainstream American culture and some dabbling in Eastern religious ideas. Though counter culture and alternative religion was their focus, they became at least as well-known for their experiments with drugs and sexThat was their common artistic -- or perhaps epistemological -- focus, but they also became at least as well-known for their experimentation with drugs and sex (Elliott 27).
The willingness of the beatniks to push against conventional American values paralleled Baraka's own nearly lifelong inclination (perhaps even compulsion) to rebel against mainstream ideas and ideals. Their inclination to violate norms also involved them in serious controversies and legal entanglements. To the point of legal entanglements. (The legal problems faced in the 1950s by core beat writers presaged heralded Baraka's own later problems, although he benefited as did other writers from these 1950s battles.) Allen Ginsberg's 1956 work Howl and William Burroughs's 1959 piece Naked Lunch became the subject of separate obscenity trials and (in turn) helped to establish new, more liberal guidelines for what could legally be published in the United States. Baraka, like other writers since the middle of the last century, would benefit from these looser rules (Brown 96).
Jones was also heavily involved in the promotion and development of a musical movement he termed "the new black music." He encouraged young musicians considered part of the jazz avant garde movement to push for recognition (Baraka, 1980). He believed strongly, that music was an integral part of the advocacy for African-American rights. During this flurry of public activity, Jones also published several articles discussing the significance of music on the movement. He also discusses Jazz and "new Black Music" in the context of cultural identity. The multitude of nationally recognized literary skill and activism established Jones as an important member of the movement for civil rights as well as creating in him a role model for countless young African-American Artists to look emulate (Harris, 1991).
The 1964 production of Jones's original play "Dutchman" off Broadway was the beginning of the end of this idyllic bohemian lifestyle. Though the play received critical acclaim (winning Jones the Obie Award for the best off Broadway play of the year), only one year later Jones would divorce his wife and move from the Village to Harlem physically removing himself from the scene which propelled him into the literary elite (Watts, 2001).
It is speculated that the increasing tone of rage and rebellion was fuelled by the adoration he received from a white mainstream public as a result of his success (Harris, 1991). Though his poetry was still controversial, still demanding change, the very society he targeted with his work willingly adopted him into their ranks appreciating his novelty and perhaps devaluing the message behind his sound. The end of his bohemian period is marked by the dark tone of his writing, as though in finding success and a national voice, he had become the mainstream he always sought to upend. Jones, in keeping with his desire always to upset the status quo did so by removing himself from the success he worked so hard to achieve and moving on to another borough and to a degree another cause.
A Fellow Traveler
But While the Beats and the larger general cultural movement towards non-conformity was an important part of Baraka's early life, it is important to stress that he was not truly a part of the movement, and would go his separate way relatively quicklyultimately leaving relatively early on.
Having managed to escape what he considered the assimilationist inclinations the desire to assimilate shared by of his parents and the middle-class neighborhood in which he grew up. He did not Neither did he want to be captured by the conventions of the Beats. For, While they certainly embraced values very different from (and in some ways directly antithetical to) mainstream America, they had their own orthodoxy, which Baraka began to find stifling (Brown 61).
As the 1950s became the 1960s, the beatniks became the hippies and the New York City liberals and activists all became part of a more general counterculture movement. A movement that was in some ways parallel to the concerns of the Civil Rights Movement and of black nationalist leaders but in some ways very different from these other social movements to a degree. There would be political elements of the hippie movement, of course. Arguably all counterculture movements are political -- politics by another name -- but This emerging counterculture of the 1960s was also explicitly politicalcountercultural a feature highlighted by in its protests of the war in Vietnam and open rebellion against the sexual roles of the time. A reflection of the changing nature of American society. Though the desire for peace and for equality were driving forces the young adjutants of the time were becoming increasingly radicalized in their drive to achieve those goals. Baraka's own political focus would shift to a more explicit focus almost exclusively on civil rights and the empowerment of African-Americans and from there to a as well as supporting of Marxist causes as he like those around him became more radicalized.
This path to radicalism is one which had been taken by other minority writers, they like he felt that their rebellion could easily "become mainstream." The answer to this fear was always to move one step further, unceasing in their drive to achieve Marxist ideals of utopia where all people were equal. This should not be surprising, since it was a path followed by other minority writers who found that the kind of artistic and personal rebellion favored by the Beats could all too easily become consolidated within (relatively) mainstream American culture (Knight 29).
(it doesn't make sense to talk about 58 here. You were talking about the transition from the 50's -- 60's in the above paragraph. Jumping between decades in this fashion is very confusing for the reader and will likely result in them being unable to concentrate on your point.)
In 1958, the same year that Baraka -- still Jones -- started his Totem Press, he also married Hettie Cohen. Like a small group of other women, She would become one of the successful female writers of the group. Female writers, such as Jone's first wife Hettie have largely been lost to history, a reflection of rampant sexism as opposed to their merit as authors. These women have in large measure been lost to the historical record, a fact that reflects not so much their literary merit but the sexism of the times that made it much more difficult for women either to become artists or to join in a Bohemian lifestyle. While men such as LeRoi Jones could do so and be seen as artistic free spirits, women who tried to do so joined the movement often faced serious cultural sanctions and personal costs.
Potentially great women writers wound up dead or crazy. I think of the women on the Beat-scene with me in the early '50s, where are they now? I know Barbara Moraff's a potter and does some writing in Vermont, and that's about all I know. I know some of them died and some of them got nuts, and one woman that I was running around the Village with in '53 was killed by her parents putting her in a shock-treatment-place in Pennsylvania (Knight 14).
Hettie Cohen, who took the last name of "Jones" when she they married, achieved some amount a degree of success, partly through her autobiography How I Became Hettie Jones as well as through her poetry. The following is an excerpt from her poem "Women in Black":
Patterns in the dust of different kinds of shoe soles black on black
we sway like grain, like the woman beside me, the scar of the burning she escaped
When she turns to me, smiling, the scar is a path, slick in the gathering dark Half the world is ours to take.
Her writing in general reflects this kind of Modernist spare style and punctuated rhythm and departs from the more surreal and even Dadaist elements of the rest of the Beat Generation. It is a useful reminder that the Beat poets and those influenced by them were very much…