Letter to Amiri Baraka – 1984
Knight wrote this letter to fellow Black Arts Movement poet Amiri Baraka, one of the founders of the movement after Baraka established the Black Arts Repertory Theater in Harlem in 1965. In the letter, Knight places himself as one part of a larger movement to reclaim the authority and sociopolitical relevance of Black oral poetry traditions—here called folklore—from white folklorists.
In this piece, Knight explains his political project as a poet: “ME, I maintain that folklore existed in the past and that it exist now; As a ‘Toast teller’ I’m saying, and assuming /my/ Authority, by the practicing of the Poetry right now, street corners, jails, clubs, churches, lodges, campuses—where/ever Black Folks talk. Therefore, the Black Folklore that’s going /on/ right now has social and political relevance” [emphasis Knight’s]. Through these declarations in this letter, he intends to recenter the concept of community in the creation and reception of Black poetry by speaking among and drawing inspiration from Black communities across time and locality.