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My research engages intersections of the racial and the sonic in the cultural criticism of poet and playwright Amiri Baraka. Focusing primarily on his music and political criticism published between 1961 and 1971, I am interested in questions of vernacular performance, as well as tensions between the verbal and the vocal that arise in his work. This project began with an interest in locating and understanding the moment in Baraka’s work where he began to turn away from the poetic style of contemporaries such as Frank O’Hara and Gary Snyder, choosing instead to shift towards a style reminiscent of jazz performance. Simply put, I am hoping to determine the role sound played in how Amiri Baraka made sense of the world around him in writing.
Moving through Baraka’s oeuvre with an attention to sound in mind, I attempt to work through tensions of politics and aesthetics that arise in his criticism. Though constantly renewing and reorienting his prose, Baraka displays a consistent desire to determine how political histories bear on issues of aesthetics. This project attempts to reflect that interrelationship by paying attention to Amiri Baraka’s political activism during and after the Newark Riots of 1967 as well as his jazz criticism published in two collections during the 1960s. By considering the implications of sonority within this aesthetic/political bifurcation, I strive to discover a comprehensive linkage that may assist in understanding the diverse and ubiquitous work Amiri Baraka produced in the 1960s and 1970s.
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McKeon, Jack Luis, ""Yells of Life in Constant Change": The Sonorous Criticism of Amiri Baraka" (2020). Senior Projects Spring 2020. 317.
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