Skip to main content
Remember when indians were red: Bob Kaufman, the popular front, and the Black arts movement
Callaloo (2002)
  • J Smethurst

Unlike other African-American contemporaries who participated in the New American Poetry groupings of the 1950s, such as Ted Joans and Amiri Baraka, Bob Kaufman seems not to have been much engaged with the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. However, Kaufman's work in many respects was a crucial forerunner of the model of a popular avant-garde art rooted in African-American popular culture and connected to a radical anti-racist, anti-colonialist and internationalist sensibility that would be characteristic of much African-American nationalist art in the 1960s and 1970s. This model of what Werner Sollors has called a "populist modernism" is heavily associated with Amiri Baraka--with considerable justice since Baraka theorized it extensively in his prose writings (Sollors 8). Nonetheless, Kaufman actually pioneered this approach in his poetry simultaneously with or earlier than did Baraka or Joans--and, as Lorenzo Thomas points out in a clearer and more developed form (Thomas, "Communicating by Horns"293). In no small part, this is due to the fact that the notion of the popular avant-garde derives significantly from the Popular Front subculture from which Kaufman emerged and with which he continued to identify after its decline during the Cold War.

Publication Date
Winter 2002
Publisher Statement
DOI: 10.1353/cal.2002.0044
Citation Information
J Smethurst. "Remember when indians were red: Bob Kaufman, the popular front, and the Black arts movement" Callaloo Vol. 25 Iss. 1 (2002)
Available at: