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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution
(1968)

Artist in an age of revolution: a symposium,   pp. [219]-[243] PDF (25.6 MB)


Page 220

220      As a schoolboy, I began leaning toward
the former, perhaps partly in protest
against the bad deal Negroes received
from the latter in books, movies and
other media, and the pull away from
white orthodoxies grew stronger as
I grew. Ever since I began to write
professionally, I have been strongly
committed to this source of strength and
power.
Does this sp'it necessarily imply an
irreconcilable option or is there a
tenable position which lies
somewhere between?
We are all influenced by the traditions
of the language we use as well as by
the educational environment to which
we were exposed, and my exposure to
"white" culture was complete. I was
always the only Negro in my class, but
I heard and read enough to convince
me that there was a sense in which
I would have to stand alone in the
cultural area. When I went to Harlem
in the twenties, I felt lei-loose, like
a rabbit in a briar patch. I turned my back
on much of my "learning" without the
slightest regret, and there my
re-education began.
Do you think there is a special
relationship that the Negro artist has
to American society?
Yes. He must try to change it.
Do you think the Negro artist has any
degree of responsibility to commit his
art to fight for Negro equality? If so,
in what way?
I get a cue from Frederick Douglass who
said during abolitionist times, 'Let
every man fight slavery in the way he
can do it best." Or something like that.
All a sincere Negro artist needs to do
is to be himself. If he is honest, and
a good artist, his work will certainly
contribute to the good fight. Anyone
who is wise enough to tell a writer
how he should write would do well to
write himself. And any writer who is silly
enough to listen will not have
our respect very long.
Does the Negro artist have something
to offer that no other artist has?
I believe so. Music offers a good
indication. There is such a thing as a
Negro style, born in the Negro experience
in the new world. You can put your
finger on it if you catch it early, but
often it is so quickly imitated you
forget its origin. But there is more
originality where that came from, more
unique ways of looking, reacting,
expressing his view, his experience of
life. No other artist can duplicate it
unless he is willing to drink from the
same cup.
To what degree and in what manner can
a successful Negro artist use his success
as a weapon or resource to improve the
status of the Negro artist in society?
That is less important, I would say,
than what he can do for the society
as a whole. The success of Negro
poetry, for example, helps to stimulate
new interest in and appreciation for
poetry in general. The Negro artist will
benefit too, of course.
Is it a necessary step in the development
of an American Negro artist to
acknowledge an African heritage?
The African heritage of American Negroes
is a fact. To deny it or to be ashamed
of it would seem to me to put an artist
at a great disadvantage. I would hazard
the opinion that every upsurge of Negro
creativity in this country (and there
have been several) has been preceeded


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