Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential Literature

BOND: Well, you get out of high school, you got to Rutgers, Newark, and who there pushes or pulls you some way?

BARAKA: I had a little professor, he was about four-foot tall. I had a little professor named Marx. He was about five foot. He was little, but he -- the literature thing was what was important. By that time I had started reading -- people like e.e. cummings and Ezra Pound in that little town.

BOND: Well, how did you find these? How do you come to e.e. cummings?

BARAKA: Well, I'm in school. And at a school -- I mean, from Rutgers -- I was going to Rutgers then. And I got home -- and also my mother, again, belonged to the Book of the Month Club. And I had read Frank Yerby when I was in high school.

BOND: Oh, I love Frank Yerby…

BARAKA: Right. Especially, the dirty parts.

BOND: I have all those books. I have all those books.

BARAKA: Yeah, I love it when --

BOND: -- bought all those books. You know, they were Book of the Month Clubs and you could buy them at antique shows. And they have those lurid covers, you know --

BARAKA: That's right. That's right.

BOND: Oh, man! Anyway, go on. I'm sorry.

BARAKA: Foxes of Harrow and all that...

BOND: Yes. I remember Langston Hughes character "Simple" talked about it. He said it was The Foxes of Harry.

BARAKA: But, you know, I -- that was -- and she had those Book of the Month and I would read 'em, you see. And I read not only Yerby, but Richard Wright. I read Black Boy when I was in high school, you know. And I never liked Native Son. But the point is I was reading those things then. I -- we had books -- I read the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. But then my grandmother used to come back -- 'cause she used to do white people's hair. She'd go up in the rich neighborhood, and she would bring back these books and clothes she said the people gave her. I have to believe my grandmother. She was such a sweet lady. She had these clothes. I would have on kind of an expensive clothes that had come out of these white folk's house, and she brought back a complete set of Charles Dickens, a complete set of H. Rider Haggard. What's the other guy? Kipling. She had a complete set of Rudyard Kipling.

BOND: Yeah.

BARAKA: And so I would be reading these books. You know, I read She and all those kind of things, and David Copperfield. I was still a little boy reading that stuff. And so they had some kind of appreciation for, you know, that kind of mind development. Course, if I could find my old copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, you know, where I had marked it up when I was a little kid because I was reading when I was a little boy, you know.

BOND: And you were notating, making notes?

BARAKA: Yeah, I was making notes. I was actually -- the stuff that I liked I would make lines, you know. And I thought that -- because I thought that was wonderful. I thought Rubaiyat was wonderful because it was like mystical. It would say things that you didn't understand. And I would be trying to figure out, "What does that mean now?" You know, "What does that mean?" I knew it meant something, you know. What does it mean? So, that was the kind of reading that I was doing before I got to college, you see. And then I -- Langston and people like that you knew -- I took Langston Hughes for granted because he was in the black newspapers. And he was the only person I knew that was talking about colored people, you know. And so I liked that because he was. And I took that, I just took that for granted.