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Johari Amini

(b. 1935)

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(b. 1935), poet, essayist, short story writer, and chiropractor.

Johari Amini, born Jewel Christine McLawler to William and Alma (Bazel) McLawler on 13 January 1935 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, changed her name after her consciousness-raising by Haki R. Madhubuti (then Don L. Lee), whom she met as a thirty-two-year-old freshman at Wilson Junior College. Johari is Swahili for “Jewel,” and Amini is Swahili for “honesty and fidelity.” Amini believes that the meaning of a name becomes an inherent part of the person carrying that name, and she wanted names that would reflect her personality and her values of honesty and fidelity—values that she lived by and that she wanted her writings to convey.

Amini's meeting Madhubuti was the beginning of a long literary and political association, which is demonstrated in her poetic style as well as in her social criticism. She was a staff member of the Institute of Positive Education, and she was assistant, then associate, editor of Third World Press and Black Books Bulletin, institutions that Madhubuti founded. Amini's sociopolitical consciousness-raising is quite evident in her poetry, essays, book and movie reviews, and monographs on health. Her writings exhibit the essence of African American womanhood and the survival of African Americans. Gwendolyn Brooks praises the poet for understanding the “rubble and mire of society” and then conveying that understanding to others (Let's Go Somewhere, 1970). Amini feels that her personal and professional responsibility is fulfilled when she is advising her people through her writings. This concern for her people is her reason for returning to college to become a chiropractor. For Amini, being a chiropractor as well as a writer is a necessary asset for helping African Americans.

The concerns of Amini the poet are the concerns of Amini the woman. These are expressed in a poetic essay entitled “Letter to a Blackwoman's Daughter, Written to Marcia,” presumably Amini's daughter Marciana. The letter cautions the daughter about the imperative to define one's blackness, to claim and to affirm one's identity. Doing so is a vital part of a person's survival. Amini has declared in several forums that she is an African American first, then a writer.

Amini and the 1960s poets felt compelled to affirm their blackness as they rejected America's racist society. To demonstrate their defiance and to make their protest more effective, the poets rejected the traditional themes, forms, and language of American poetry. They demanded that their voices be heard, so they used features attributed to the vernacular of African Americans—multiple negation, zero copula, the invariant “be,” zero possessives, clipped verb endings, slang vocabulary, unorthodox spelling and capitalization, zero punctuation, and abbreviated words. The rhythmic cadence of the poetry was not the iambic pentameter or other such metrical patterns but free verse with words scattered randomly across the printed page. These nontraditional rhetorical strategies demanded attention in order to convey the urgent message of protest against the inequality and injustices in America. Although Amini uses these nontraditional linguistic strategies, she adamantly cautions that students be taught formal English so that they will be able to function in contemporary society. (She has taught composition and African American literature in colleges in Chicago.) While Amini does not view her linguistic strategies as a part of her political stance, she agrees that the political stance manifested in her writing is who she is; her words reflect the very essence of her being an African American woman in today's society.


Subjects: Literature

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