Haki Madhubuti – Writing from the Personal to the Political

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Born on February 23, 1942, as Donald LEE, Dr. Haki R. Madhubuti is an African-American
poet, author, and founder of Third World Press, the country’s oldest black-owned independent publishing house.

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Early Life and Education

Haki Madhubuti’s childhood was far from an easy one. He had to teach himself what right from wrong as his father abandoned him and his mother when he was young. Sadly, the abandonment by his father led to his mother eventually became an alcoholic and drug addict. When Madhubuti was 14, his mother urged him to visit the library in Detroit, to read Richard Wright’s Black Boy. He resisted but eventually ended up giving in and reading the book. The book outlined Wright’s experiences in the South during segregation and how it affected him as a child. This marked a turning point in Madhubuti’s life, as it was the first time, he had read something that highlighted his circumstances, and he became a voracious reader. Madhubuti served in the U.S. Army from 1960-1963; afterward, the GI Bill assisted him in attending college. He attended Chicago City College, Wilson Junior College, Roosevelt University and the University of Illinois. After which, in 1984, he received his MFA from the University of Iowa.

Third World Press

In 1967, Madhubuti used $400 to buy a mimeograph machine and open his first business, Third World Press. The publishing house grew in stature to become the oldest independent black-owned press continuously operating in the United States. Third World Press has a plethora of poetic pieces under its belt including, “The Diary of Malcolm X” and books from Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Marc Lamont Hill, and Mumia Abu Jamal, just to name a few. One of his many accomplishments was to have Tavis Smiley’s “The Covenant With Black America” (2006), reach the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

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Poems and Books

Madhubuti’s ability to command the attention of his audience using his free verse is noteworthy especially given the importance of his content, which is typically not a mainstream content. His poems can be personal, political and racially themed. This is evidenced in his works dedicated to black musicians such as Duke Ellington as well as civil right leaders, seen in works like, “Malcolm spoke/who listened?”. Madhubuti is a man of truth and he uses his stories and poems to speak about integrity and justice. He knows the power his poems possess, and he uses them to promote the ideals he believes in.
In 1966, his first collection of poems, “Think Black”, was printed and from there he made a
name for himself with a wide variety of poems. These include Black Pride which was published by Broadside Press in 1968, and he followed it with Don’t Cry, Scream! (1969) which ended up selling 50,000 copies. Among Madhubuti’s other poetry volumes are We Walk the Way of the New World (1970), Book of Life (1973), Killing Memory, Seeking Ancestors (1987),GroundWork (1996) and Directionscore: Selected and New Poems (1971).

Awards and accomplishments

His honors and awards include an American Book Award (1991) and fellowships from the
National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Madhubuti has accomplished a lot with the little he has been given. He is a keynote speaker at colleges, libraries, and community centers among other institutions in the US and worldwide. No doubt, he will continue to make his mark with his poems, books, business, and strong principles.

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PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.



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