An Interview by Lee Hubbard
While drugs and their impact have been talked about, no one has really dealt with the addiction to drugs and how it impacts a community and one's soul. No one has, until Marvin X, a poet, long time writer and activist, decided to touch this subject in his play, "A Day in the Life". The play details Marvin's life ordeal with drugs, as well as the impact drugs had on former Black Panthers Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton and the Black community.
While the play helped many people exorcise their demons, it also helped to
revive the work and career of
Marvin X, who, along with Amiri
Baraka and Sonia Sanchez,
was one of the founding members of the
Black Arts Movement.
BAM helped to lay an intellectual and artistic base for the Black Power movement
in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
As word spread about Marvin's Recovery Theatre, many younger people began to discover Marvin's controversial work, which during the 60s prompted Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, to ban Marvin X from teaching at state universities.
I was able to sit down and talk to Marvin X about his involvement in the 1960s Black Arts Movement and on his latest book of essays, In the Crazy House Called America.
Lee: Tell our readers about your Recovery Theatre.
Marvin: It is a continuation of my work in the Black Arts Theatre. Recovery Theater is a present day Black Arts Theatre. Black Arts was about healing from oppression. Recovery Theater is about healing from drugs and/or oppression. Drug usage is caused by oppression. It is a symptom of a greater problem. I don't care if you are poor or rich, you can still be oppressed.
Lee: Tell me about your book In the Crazy House Called America.
Marvin: I thought I would offer a prescription to get out of the crazy house or, if not to get out of it, to transform the crazy house and turn it into a mansion. The prescription is like Frantz Fanon said, ’You have to fight your way out of the crazy house to sanity.’ That is the only way that the oppressed man and woman can regain their mental health, through revolutionary struggle and challenging the diagnosis that he isn't sick. Oppression is a sickness. That you allow yourself to be a slave is a sickness. It is a form of mental illness. We become passive.
Lee: So your book has the cure?
Marvin: Well this is what people who have read my book say. It is prescription for action to get up and do something. It is part of the African American literature tradition of how I got over and how I survived, how I made it from Hell and back. It is a lesson that everyone can learn from. If I did it, why can't you? I had gone from the poorest street in America to the richest street in the world, Wall Street. My national tour was a manifestation that there are many mansions in my father’s house, because everywhere I have stayed, I was in a mansion.
Lee: In your book, you talk about your life on drugs. Explain to our readers how a very literate and educated revolutionary man could get hooked on crack.
Marvin: That is very simple. I am going to say it in the words that my father used. He said, ’You are so smart that you outsmarted yourself.’ I outsmarted myself, and I played with fire. And I got burned. There was no excuse. I can give you some, but the critical Negroes in New York said that no excuse is acceptable for what happened to me, Eldridge and Huey and other so-called revolutionaries. They say we betrayed the revolution for drugs, when we knew the source of drugs, and we knew the danger of drugs and the destructive power of drugs. I am just lucky to come out alive in contrast to Huey and Eldridge, my buddies, who I smoked dope with who did not make it out. I wrote about this in my play, One Day in the Life.
Lee: Why did you write your book, and what can younger readers get out of it?
Marvin: I wrote it to help save humanity from insanity, because White people are just as crazy if not crazier than Black people. For example, the brothers and sisters in Houston asked me to set up a Recovery Theatre South in Houston. Immediately what came to my mind, more important than recovery from drugs, the South has to recover from racism. I wrote it about everyone, for Muslims as well as Christians. Muslims are sick with religiosity just as Christians are sick with religiosity, and ritualism and mythology. These are some of the causes of our current situation. If we recognize it, we can get a healing.
Lee: Looking back at your career, what do you think of the Black Arts Movement and your contribution to it?
Marvin: The Black Arts Movement was part of the liberation movement of Black people in America. The Black Arts Movement was the artistic arm. The time period we are talking about was from 1964 until the early 1970s. The Black Arts Movement was like a halfway house for brothers and sisters to get Black Consciousness and go from there into the political revolution.
For example, brothers came into the Black Arts Theatre that Ed Bullins and I had in San Francisco, and they got a revolutionary consciousness through Black art, drama, poetry, music, paintings, artwork and magazines. The same thing took place on the East Coast in Harlem at Amiri Baraka’s Black Arts Theatre. In Detroit, they had the Black Arts Movement with Rod Milner and producer Woody King. In Chicago, you had a crew with Haki Madhubuti, Gwendolyn Brooks, Hoyt Fuller. You had the same thing in the South with the Free Southern Theatre in New Orleans that traveled throughout the South and was connected with SNCC. There was a marriage between Black arts and the revolution.
Lee: What happened to this movement?
Marvin: Well, what happens to a dream deferred? It had to be destroyed. Black people were on the road to freedom. We had upped the anti with the Black Power/Black Arts movement, so we had to be stopped.
Lee: What happened with you and the Black Arts Movement?
Marvin: As far as I am concerned it is ongoing. I am still working in it. I just had a great performance in Philadelphia with Sonia Sanchez and Sun Ra’s musicians. I am a manifestation that it is still going, that the Black Arts Movement is still here. Baraka is still here. He has gotten more media play than any poet in America, because of a poem that is coming directly out of a Black Arts tradition of telling it like it is.
Lee: Tell me about your relationship with Amiri Baraka?
Marvin: Well, it is an artistic relationship, and it is a personal relationship. On the artistic level, he set a standard for artists and poets. He set the standard high for revolutionary Black artists. But even Baraka was in the tradition of other writers and activists, such as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Paul Robeson and others. On a personal level, he is like a friend and an uncle, since he is 10 years older than me.
Lee: What did you think of his poem controversy with the governor of New Jersey?
Marvin: I thought it was in the tradition of the Black Arts Movement. I think it was one of his greatest poems. He asked the question, Who. If you ask the question, you might get some answers.
Lee: So where is the revolution?
Marvin: The revolution is inside of the revolutionary. We thought it was outside in the 1960s. We thought we could free the people, but we did not free our families or ourselves. We abused our families. We neglected our families, yet still we were fighting revolution.
But there is no revolution without the family. There is no revolution if we beat our women half to death and neglect our children for an abstraction called freedom. That is why the rappers have gone crazy. They saw our contradiction in the Black Arts Movement. And so they rejected the aesthetics of the Black Arts Movement, and they have gone on to openly express perversions.
Marvin X on AALBC.com
Movie Reviews by Marvin X on AALBC.com include: