Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

The Black Arts Movement and Politics

BOND: Let me go back to something you said. You once said that, "Movement makes leader -- movements make leaders," and I think we've settled that you are a leader.

GIOVANNI: We're fighting about this.

BOND: And typically you're associated with what was called the Black Arts Movement. And from something you said earlier, I have a feeling that maybe that's not you, that you're not comfortable, or are you comfortable with being in this category of people?

GIOVANNI: I like the Black Arts -- I like all of these categories, we've just been trying to, I mean we're just sitting here trying to -- I guess I'm letting you sort out my career to some degree. I was very comfortable in Black Arts. The people that were around, you know, we were New Yorkers, Jackie Early, Sonia Sanchez came into it, it was a lot of good people, I'm just trying to say that you can't be ideologically driven if you're going to be a writer and that's always going to lead to problems with other people who think that they should tell you what to do. It's that simple.

BOND: Wasn't it Du Bois who said "All art is political, or should be," or someone, who said something like that?

GIOVANNI: Sounds like Du Bois.

BOND: You don't agree with that?

GIOVANNI: No, because all our -- I agree with it, but not in the sense that -- I think it was Du Bois -- but not in the sense that he was saying it. I think all art is political, so it's up to us to be truthful. And wherever that truth leads you is what the political realization is.

BOND: But your truth and his truth and her truth, these can be different truths, and all true.

GIOVANNI: Well they're looking at something from a different point of view. But you can't tell -- I mean, everybody's not going to pray in the same church, and I've always resented that and I still do. I mean, I don't know a time when I didn't.

BOND: Now, if it's true that movements make leaders, then did the Black Arts movement make you? I don't mean create you, make you a poet, but did the movement create the occasion where you could flourish and emerge?

GIOVANNI: Well, I'm sure it did, I -- you know, you can do all you want with the soil. Somebody don't put some water in it you're not going to get any flowers. And being in New York -- I'm sure had I stayed in Knoxville, I wouldn't have had a career because there's just no floors, as James Baldwin would put it, there's no floor upon which to dance. I think I could have stayed in Cincinnati, but I was never a -- I'm still not a believer in the Midwest. I mean even the Chicago people, you know Chicago people they all have -- they're paranoid because it's always been a second city -- and you know, to a great degree what we call the Harlem Renaissance should really have been a Chicago Renaissance. But New York so overshadows Chicago that it became the Harlem Renaissance. I mean, if you look at the history, you know, as it goes.

And so that even had I stayed in the Midwest, it would have been a very different experience because you're sort of bound in. And New York even -- I don't -- New York is just, I think, the greatest city in the world, you know. And I just don't think there's any question if you're -- and I say to my students now, I'm at Tech and you know I say to them, "You gotta go to New York." I just don't know where else an American writer -- of course you can go to Paris or you know eventually I don't have a problem about Barcelona -- but if you want to be a writer you go to New York because it gives you every, everything, I mean just going to the various neighborhoods you know you never have to worry about what you're learning or -- you sit down and you -- I mean right now if I were twenty-five I'd be sitting at the UN, you know, just putting on my --I'm not language rich, I'm language poor -- so I'd put on my English earphones and just hear the debates going on. How could you not be excited about the world? You're in the city that brings the world to you.