Sunday, 12 January 2014

Amiri Baraka

Dear Jonathan Fischer: I want to praise you for the deserved eloquence of your obit of Leroi Jones. It reminded me of our first encounter outside Philadelphia at Beaver college. I had just dumped the greatest job in my life as the first director of the State Department funded American Studies Institute at the University of Hawaii's East/West Center. Its purpose was to attract Asian students to study technology and American to study Asian culture. Towards the end of my first year (1961-2) I learned to my horror that my assistant, Seymour Lutsky, had been in the CIA since his Iowa Ph.D.(1952).

I accepted English chair/tenured full professor at Beaver College (now Arcadia U) because I had left our new Louis Kahn home in the Greenbelt Knoll experiment in racial integration in Philly. I had just spent three years organizing the Annenberg School of Communication at Penn, installing my first mentor, Gilbert Seldes as Dean.My run-ins with the fascist billionaire donor, Walter Annenberg, publisher of TV Guide was my first awareness of the high price of integrity Universities pay to solicit cash, two millions in this case. (I taught media history there until the temptation of Hawaii.) I accepted a tenured full professor English chair at Beaver College (now Arcadia U). Its standards were aspiring but not very high. We began by admitting men.

My first public move was to invite Amiri to speak to the entire student body. It was iffy he'd come--until I got a late night call fro L.A. that he was on the last red-eye. He spent a lot of time explaining his new Village Voice activism. A Jewish student who was the school's best actress chided him in mid-address. (Why did he have a Jewish girl friend?) Evasive reply!

After lunch we retired to the basement theatre. Where the same "mouthy" Jewess was the lead! Amiri's activist pal standing next to me whispered "let's get the fuckouta here!"  "No, no, no," Baraka replied softly. "She's doing it exactly right!"

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