Literary Criticism and American Studies

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Amiri Baraka and Edward Dorn: The Collected Letters

Edited by Claudia Moreno Pisano

Winner of the 2014 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature

From the end of the 1950s through the middle of the 1960s, Amiri Baraka (b. 1934) and Edward Dorn (1929–99), two self-consciously avant-garde poets, fostered an intense friendship primarily through correspondence. The early 1960s found both poets just beginning to publish and becoming public figures. Bonding around their commitment to new and radical forms of poetry and culture, Dorn and Baraka created an interracial friendship at precisely the moment when the Civil Rights Movement was becoming a powerful force in national politics. The major premise of the Dorn-Jones friendship as developed through their letters was artistic, but the range of subjects in the correspondence shows an incredible intersection between the personal and the public, providing a schematic map of what was so vital in postwar American culture to those living through it.

Their letters offer a vivid picture of American lives connecting around poetry during a tumultuous time of change and immense creativity. Reading through these correspondences allows access into personal biographies, and through these biographies, profound moments in American cultural history open themselves to us in a way not easily found in official channels of historical narrative and memory.


Claudia Moreno Pisano is an associate professor of English at LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York.


“The two writers (Amiri Baraka and Edward Dorn) could not have hoped for a better editor than Claudia Moreno Pisano, whose notes clarify every obscurity and shed light on shadowy in-jokes.”


Times Literary Supplement

“The collection provides a fascinating look not only into the lives of these two poets but also into a turbulent time in American culture that is both very different from and sadly very similar to our own.”


Christianity Today

“Studiously compiled. . . . (The) fundamental conjunction of alternative cultures and social movements is at the heart of the Baraka-Dorn correspondence.”


Boston Review

“A narrative assemblage with artfully selected materials whose backdrop never overshadows the shifting tones contained within the correspondence between poets Ed Dorn and Amiri Baraka.”


Rain Taxi

“These are letters both for poets and scholars. They will inspire poets to write and believe in the importance of art and they will clarify the times for scholars. . . . Pisano sharpens the scholar’s understanding of Baraka and Dorn and helps us fill in the story.”


American Studies

“The friendship that emerges in these letters follows the pattern of the exchange itself. Defined by its intensity, it is in turns trusting and antagonistic: reading it through in its entirety, we hear two major poets at the germinal moment of their careers hammering out the ideas that define their art. . . . The letters have been intelligently edited by Claudia Moreno Pisano: her annotations are assiduously judged and enlightening.”


PN Review

6.125 x 9.25 in. 248 pages 10 halftones