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Amiri Baraka (b. 1934)


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A: Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) Pf: 1964, New York Pb: 1964 G: Drama in 1 act S: Subway carriage, New York, 1960s C: 3m, 1f, extrasOn a hot summer's day, Clay, a young black college graduate, is riding the subway to a friend's party. Lula, an attractive white woman, sits down beside him, saying that she came to find him after seeing him through the window at the last station. She begins to flirt with him, surprising him by making accurate guesses about his aspirational lifestyle. Prompted by her, he asks her to the party, and she promises ‘fun in the dark house’ afterwards at her apartment. As the carriage fills with passengers, Lula becomes more and more uncontrolled, finally swaying sensuously and demanding that Clay dance with her and ‘rub bellies on the train’. When he refuses, she jeers at him, calling him ‘Uncle Tom’ for assuming white respectability. Throwing aside a white drunk, he flings Lula back on to her seat, and in a violent outburst admits that his middle-class behaviour is just a thin veneer over his ‘pumping black heart’. As Clay prepares to leave the train, Lula stabs him twice, then orders the other passengers to throw his body off the train. Another black youth gets on at the next stop. Lula eyes him up, just as a black Conductor enters and greets the young man with: ‘Hey, brother!’

A: Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) Pf: 1964, New York Pb: 1964 G: Drama in 1 act S: Subway carriage, New York, 1960s C: 3m, 1f, extras

This short play, which launched the playwright's career, is completely naturalistic, stage time corresponding to real time, and is conceived in almost cinematic terms, moving from close-ups to long shots (indeed, the piece was successfully filmed). Baraka's later work tended to be either agitprop stylized pieces or grand pageants with music and dance. In Dutchman (the name recalling the Flying Dutchman who, like Clay, is now nowhere at home), the true feelings of the young black are unmasked by the provocative Lula. In all his differing styles, Baraka explored and even celebrated racial hatred, in stark contrast with the message of reconciliation in Baldwin's Blues for Mister Charlie, premiered in the same year.

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LeRoi Jones (b. 1934)