Juanita’s (Virgin Soul, 2013, etc.) multigenre study guide invites readers to investigate, through fiction, poetry, drama, and essays, the many facets of the revolutionary black artistic and political movements of the 1960s and ’70s.
In the short story “The Black House,” a young woman’s first encounter with the Black Panther Party begins with nervous skepticism as she practices the Islamic greeting that the members use. She soon gets a quick introduction to sexual politics when a man ushers her into the kitchen with the words, “You belong in here.” After some resistance, she finds strength and commonality among the women of the group. The poem “(not) forgotten man” is a tribute to the author Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones), whom the speaker describes as a “quixotic nobody” who “blasted the bridges between black and white.” “Life is a Carousel” is a two-act play, set at an academic symposium and at an airport before and after it. In it, a 1960s Black Arts Movement activist (based on Baraka) spars with airline agents and younger black academics as he declaims a manifesto that modern readers will find to be both hopelessly dated and frustratingly timeless. When a younger professor says, “You lose credence when you refuse to update,” the old lion snaps back, “We call that co-opted.” The book ends with two essays, “Five Comrades in the Black Panther Party, 1967-1970” and “Meeting LeRoi Jones,” a dryly humorous story of hero worship and the thrill of a burgeoning movement. Overall, Juanita has created a dense and intriguing tribute to an important literary group whose influence still reverberates in American culture. Her works effectively embrace a wide variety of issues from gender politics to skin-color privilege within the black community. “Life is a Carousel,” for example, is a complex tapestry of intergenerational dialogue that punctures the pomposity of both the old and the young while also skewering academic conferences and probing issues of sex, sexuality, and gender identity. The discussion questions at the end of each work raise thought-provoking issues and encourage creativity.
An engaging collection of writings that celebrates and reveals the historic Black Arts Movement.