Haki R. Madhubuti (Don L. Lee) (1942- )

Haki Madhubuti
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Haki R. Madhubuti is a poet, professor, and founder of Third World Press, the nation’s oldest publisher of Black thought and literature. Madhubuti was born Don L. Lee in Little Rock, Arkansas, on February 23, 1942.  After a move to Detroit, his father abandoned the family. His mother worked various menial jobs to support her children but became addicted to drugs and alcohol, dying from an overdose when Madhubuti was sixteen.  He served in the army from 1960 to 1963 and afterwards attended several colleges before receiving his MFA from the University of Iowa in 1984. He changed his name from Lee to Haki Madhubuti in 1973.

Haki Madhubuti became deeply interested in and influenced by the Black Arts Movement, reading such figures as Richard Wright at an early age.  His mother’s struggle to overcome poverty, addiction, and degradation while raising her children had a powerful impact on Madhubuti’s life, and he credits her as the wellspring of his intellectual development.

Madhubuti published his first collection of poems, Think Black, in 1967 followed by Black Pride (1968), Don’t Cry, Scream (1969), We Walk the Way of the New World (1970) and Book of Life (1973).  His works deal with issues of racism, violence, stigmatization, and oppression of black people in America as well as the use of Christianity to persuade them to accept their condition.  In 1967, Madhubuti and a group of colleagues founded Third World Press out of the basement of his Chicago home in order to give black writers and intellectuals an avenue for liberated self-expression.

Madhubuti is a prolific writer in a variety of genres, including essays. His most famous work is the best-seller Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous?: The African American Family in Transition (1990). He is particularly concerned with questions of memory, identity, and sense of self for people of the African Diaspora, and his work, Killing Memory, Seeking Ancestors (1987) deals with the topic. Madhubuti was influenced by Gwendolyn Brooks along with other intellectuals, the Black Power Movement, liberation movements across the globe, and the Civil Rights Movement.

Madhubuti advocates independent black academic institutions and black intellectual autonomy. He is the founder and director emeritus of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing and the director of the MFA program in Creative Writing, both programs at Chicago State University.  Madhubuti lives with his wife Safisha, a professor at Northwestern University.