by Taki S. Raton
Chicago’s Third World Press founder and DePaul University professor Haki R. Madhubuti was one of the esteemed winners of the 9th annual Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards. Madhubuti was honored for his most recent book of poetry, “Liberation Narratives: New and Collected Poems 1966-2009.”
Named for two greats of American and world literature, Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, the Hurton/Wright Foundation presents the Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards annually to authors of African descent for the year’s best work in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. This year was the first time the Foundation named two winners for poetry, Professor Madhubuti and Pulitzer Prize winner poet Rita Dove.
The Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards are the culmination of a yearlong process involving 12 distinguished judges who serve on four separate juries. With more than 200 entries submitted each year, six nominees are selected in the listed categories. Notable scholars and literary figures that served on the organization’s advisory board include Toni Morrison, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Chinua Achebe, E. Ethelbert Miller, and Terry McMillan. McMillan served as Mistress of Ceremonies at the awards dinner held November 15 in Washington, D.C.
This November awards event was also the occasion to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation founded in 1990 by novelist Marita Golden and bibliophile Clyde McElvene as a resource center for writers, readers and supporters of African American literature.
As one of the prime movers of the Black Arts Movement dated 1965 to 1975 and a pivotal figure in the development of an exemplary Black literary tradition, Haki R. Madhubuti has published more than 28 books with select earlier titles under his former name, Don L. Lee. He is noted as one of the world’s best-selling authors of poetry and non-fiction with and an excess of over 3million books in print.
His “Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous? – The Afrikan American Family in Transition” (1990) has sold more than 1 million copies. Additional highly acclaimed titles include “Claiming Earth, Race, Rage, Rape, Redemption” (1994), “GroundWork: New and Selected Poems 1966-1996” (1996), “Heartlove: Wedding and Love Poems” (1998), “Tough Notes: A Healing Call For Creating Exceptional Black Men” (2002), “Run Toward Fear” (2004), and “YellowBlack: The First Twenty-Tone Years of a Poet’s Life” (2008). His poetry and essays have been published in more than 100 anthologies.
“Liberating Narratives: New and Collected Poems 1966-2009” is his most comprehensive collection of poetry to date and chronicles what a Third World Press release describes as a “tumultuous period in American history” and provides an overview of emerging Black culture.
The work borrows language from Black consciousness, hip-hop, political speeches, and motivational sharing to help define and sustain a movement. From the angry calls to action from his earlier work, to spoken-word poetry and “message” poetry directed toward community healing, the 500-page “Liberation Narratives” presents a complete collection of Madhubuti’s poetry through a troubled era.
“This book represents my life’s work,” says Madhubuti referencing this collection of more than three decades of his distinctive poetry. “This award confirms that reading Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston as a teenager was indeed my impetus for my life’s work as a poet, educator, institution builder and advocate for social and political justice,” he says.
The author adds that after reading “Black Boy” by Richard Wright, “I was inspired to not only find out who I was, but to start a lifelong search for that which is good, correct and just, not only for Black people, but for the great majority of the world’s people who are poor and oppressed. Art and literature are dependable and powerful weapons in the struggle for social equality.”
Madhubuti is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships. He founded Third World Press in 1967 and is co-founder of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing at Chicago State University’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program.
Accomplishments further list chairmanship of the board of the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent. In 2006, he was awarded the Literary Legacy Award from the National Black Writers Conference for creating and supporting Black literature and for building Black literary institutions. He received his third honorary Doctor of Letters from Spelman College in May of 2006. In 2007, he was named Chicagoan of the Year by Chicago Magazine.
In May of 2008, Professor Madhubuti was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from Art Sanctuary of Philadelphia. He was named one of the “Ebony Power 150: Most Influential Blacks in America” in 2009 for his work in education and in 2010, he was presented with the President’s Pacesetters Award from the American Association of Blacks in Higher Education.
A leading proponent of independent Black educational institutions and the African Centered school movement, Madhubuti is founder of the Institute of Positive Education/New Concept School (1969), and a co-founder of Betty Shabazz International Charter School (1998), DuSable Leadership Academy (2005) and Barbara A. Sizemore Middle School (2006), all of which are in Chicago.
He earned his MFA from the University of Iowa. His highly distinguished teaching career details faculty positions at Columbia College of Chicago, Cornell University, University of Illinois at Chicago, Howard University, Morgan State University, and the University of Iowa. He is former University Distinguished Professor and a professor of English at Chicago State University where he founded and was director-emeritus of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center and director of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program.
This writer’s is proud to add that his son attended Haki’s New Concept Development Center for his elementary school years. The independent Black school movement in Chicago with particular connections to Madhubuti’s example of institution building in this regard further fueled inspiration and modeling for the creation of Blyden Delany Academy here in Milwaukee from 1998 to 2008.
And finally to the point of our children and future, he noted twenty-years ago in his 1990 published work “Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous? – The Afrikan American Family in Transition”:
“A people’s offspring are priority. When a people do not place the development of its children as foremost on its list of priorities, that people is killing itself internally. All serious nation-builders think in generations and often in centuries.
“ Currently, black children are in serious trouble due to the disintegration of the Black family…My focus is on the children because the children’s development is key to the success of any social arrangement ultimately adopted by Black people. Congruently, if Black adults develop, the children will develop. If the quality of adult relationships are loving, productive and secure, the chances increase that the children’s will be also.”
Taki S. Raton is a school consultant in the African Centered instructional model. Former founder and principle of Blyden Delany Academy in Milwaukee, he is a writer and lecturer on the national stage detailing African World historiography, urban community concerns with emphasis on education, the social development of Black youth and African American male issues. He can be reached by email for presentation and consultant inquires at: [email protected]