Tales of the Out and the Gone

Tales of the Out and the Gone

by Amiri Baraka

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Comprising short fiction from the early 1970s to the twenty-first century—most of which has never been published—Tales of the Out & the Gone reflects the astounding evolution of America’s most provocative literary anti-hero.

The first section of the book, “War Stories,” offers six stories enmeshed in the vola-tile politics of


Comprising short fiction from the early 1970s to the twenty-first century—most of which has never been published—Tales of the Out & the Gone reflects the astounding evolution of America’s most provocative literary anti-hero.

The first section of the book, “War Stories,” offers six stories enmeshed in the vola-tile politics of the 1970s and 1980s. The second section, “Tales of the Out & the Gone,” reveals Amiri Baraka’s increasing literary adventurousness, combining an unpredictable language play with a passion for abstraction and psychological exploration.

Throughout, Baraka’s unique and constantly changing literary style will educate readers on the evolution of one of America’s most accomplished literary masters of the past four decades.

Editorial Reviews

James A. Miller
At their best, these are playful sketches that stretch language and imagination in unexpected ways but still maintain some connection to existing social reality.
— The Washington Post
Andrew O'Hehir
Baraka is such a provocateur, so skilled at prodding his perceived enemies (who are legion) in their tender underbellies, that it becomes easy to overlook that he is first and foremost a writer. And a specific kind of writer at that: an old-guard, avant-garde dinosaur, devoted to left-wing politics and formal experimentation. There’s no understanding him without understanding that.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The same rhetorical bomb throwing that drew attention to Baraka for his poem "Who Blew Up America" shoots through these stories written from 1974 through the present. Baraka works over issues of politics, race, sex and the afterlife, though the focus is always on ideas and wordplay. In "Conrad Loomis and the Clothes Ray," the narrator's friend Conrad reveals his new invention, a "clothes ray" that zaps the illusion of natty clothing onto the body of a naked person. Loomis describes himself as "outtelligent," which is superior to plain intelligence because it represents a brightness focused outward rather than inward. He also explains that while most people can understand problems, he can both "over and understand them." Linguistic ticks and characters like Loomis represent the engaging but intellectually imprecise core of this collection. At their best, these stories stretch language and churn out grimly whimsical notions, but Baraka also misfires, tweaking language into meaninglessness, or, for instance, melding The Matrix with hoary 9/11 conspiracy theories. (Dec.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Baraka, who has had a long and distinguished career as a poet, fiction writer, activist, and provocateur, here presents a collection of previously unpublished short stories spanning almost 30 years, from 1974 to 2003. Baraka has a rich and distinctive voice (militant, hip, urban, jazz-inflected, and punctuated with bursts of street slang), and in the work included here we find him experimenting and taking risks. Thus, as one might expect, these pieces range widely in terms of quality. A few of the pieces are strong, while much of the rest is uneven. But the collection nonetheless records a marvelously vital and creative mind at work. Among the best pieces are "Blank," an edgy, surreal story about a man who finds himself on a city street with no memory of who he is, and "Neo-American," a story about politics in New Jersey in the 1970s. This is a mixed grab-bag of a book, but there is enough here to make it a worthwhile acquisition for many libraries.-Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., Manchester, CT Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A grab-bag of pieces from the long-time poet, critic and provocateur, drawing inspiration from tall tales, sci-fi, Beat poetry and wild abstraction. For better or worse, Baraka is now best known for voicing anti-Semitic 9/11 conspiracy theories in his poem "Somebody Blew Up America," delivered while he was New Jersey's poet laureate. This collection, drawn mostly from Baraka's work over the past two decades, goes a long way toward reminding readers of the breadth of his talents-his prose bears by turns the influence of Ray Bradbury, John Coltrane and '60s leftist tracts. But though his writing is colorful and overflowing with ideas, the stories collected here often feel maddeningly unfinished or didactic. The 1975 story "Neo-American," which follows the black mayor of a New Jersey town on the day of the president's visit, makes some obvious points about power's corrupting influence and the disconnect between black leaders and the communities they serve. "What Is Undug Will Be" is that story's near-polar opposite, an act of automatic writing that seems divorced from logic. ("It wasn't just I, but I & I, but you was only half of you.") But he also offers a few laughs (and shrewd observations about race) in a handful of brief stories describing a man's out-there inventions-a device that takes you to wherever a song of your choice is playing, a ray gun that clothes you in whatever you imagine and a "pig detector" that identifies nearby cops. And he's a solid craftsman of more conventional works like "Mondongo," about two Air Force buddies on an ill-fated hunt for prostitutes in Puerto Rico, and "Norman's Date," a story that originally appeared in Playboy, about a one-night-stand gone wrong.Elsewhere, though, he dismisses the latter piece as a potboiler; for Baraka, telling the story straight is a rare (and suspect) tactic. A perfect encapsulation of a sui generis writer-work that is often as frustrating as it is enlightening.

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Akashic Books
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Read an Excerpt

Tales of the Out & the Gone

By Amiri Baraka

Akashic Books

Copyright © 2007 Amiri Baraka
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-933354-12-5

Chapter One

New & Old

The debate was short and sour. Acrid. Unsunny. Though a vein of humor eased through it. It began after three years away from the organization. Conrad faced Pander with the proposition that he, Pander, was an opportunist. That he would come up and criticize operations to others, but say nothing to people's faces.

Pander huffed and puffed through his opened nostrils. A flush of red thru his brown face, fattened by studentdom come late in life.

As revolutionaries, black nationalists, he and Conrad had been together as part of a larger being, World Insurrectionists. W.I. But a silent and tightly focused split sent Conrad, as one suborganization head, off with his folks in another direction. There had almost been a shoot-out on a southern campus between W.I. people and the breaking-away Liberation Afrikan Front. L.A.F. people.

Pander had been where in that? Had he already left W.I., or what? During that period or a little earlier, Simba, the leader-teacher, apparently had Pander cracked across the skull and driven out with his running partner, Big Yellow Jerome, who's now a City Hall dope dealer. Cleaner. Wabenzi (the tribe that drives in the Mercedes Benzes). The whole story on that. The head whipping. The flight. Accusations that Pander was "an agent who pushes pills" inside the organization. All that remains unclear. Or too clear.

Except Simba got worse, from the strain of revolutionary struggle. Began to swallow too many stay-awake and stay-asleep pills. Became a drowsy ordering vegetable. Amidst the cries for blood, the secret and public capitalist hit men also cried. Amidst internal and external machinations, opportunism-a more exotic withdrawal from the real world. Madness in the smoke of sweet incense. A machine gun set up on a tripod just inside the door of the house. Servants padded in stockinged feet. People pulled in and questioned. Through the fog, conspiracies hatched conspiracies-all fake. Except the real one, that worked.

Conrad gave money to Simba's brother to rescue him, take him to a hospital. The brother didn't even bother to report. Except months later, he explained the obvious: He had failed.

But all this, simply to set the proper pincer of memory and light. Truth moves the faces back and forth. Pander began talking in a rush. "Phrase mongering," he said. Being criticized for behind-the-back criticizing to the R.C. The Right Commies, a group of young, mostly white students calling themselves "multinational workers." About how it shudda been. With thousands of Puerto Ricans ready to rip, boiling outside on the pavement in front of City Hall. Safely indoors, the Nigger Mayor losing weight, oinking like a panicked porker with his little tail curling up under his coat, nailed in place by the way his neck sat, holding up his doofus face. Conrad, the Puerto Rican leaders, and another organization-the Leopards-ran back and forth between City Hall negotiations and the pavement. The crowd had converged from the Puerto Rican ghettoes of the city, El Barrio, to scream at this ugly life. One of their children had been trampled to death by a mounted policeman, trying to stop two Puerto Ricans from shooting crap in the middle of a folklore festival. Two more, both Puerto Rican, died. Shot in the back and the back of the head. The last one pistol-whipped in the face, for good measure.

The negotiators, of course, read and shouted demands, impossible even under the crumbling illusion of bourgeois democracy. And now it was the nigger-a grim fatso who stuffed himself daily with five or six meals, combined into two for austerity. He rode in a Checker cab instead of a Cadillac to give the illusion that he wasn't spending money. He changed mistresses so people who knew the old fat one would be confused because they wouldn't know the new fat one. But they knew both and laughed casually or derisively, depending on whether or not they had a city job.

Police review boards-Amnesty for all the prisoners-A people's investigation team-Expose the causes of the police riot-Free medical care! These were the demands. And the Nigger Mayor acted like the Cracker Mayor, co-collaborators with the dying order. Skin freaks still didn't understand this. "Give him a chance," they said. Though now they couldn't say it to the Puerto Ricans. Or maybe the fools could. Like big outtashape loudmouth Ms. Birdie, in charge of the anti-poverty special-education fund. "These Podaricans is takin' everythin'," she said. A working-class recruit to the petite bourgeoisie, with aspirations from early times. Conrad told how she sang opera. She was Cio-Cio-San in Madame Butterfly, with pink makeup on her dark skin, even on the lips, with white sequined gowns and hair tossed in high piles like frozen custard, Vaseline flavor. She was in training then to play this sorry role, big outtashape loudmouth hard bureaucrat of nigger-shuffle garbage can-eatin' para(meta)dise. "These Podaricans is takin' everythin'." Yeh. Poverty, exploitation, oppression, white feet-now Bignigger feet. They got, truly, everything!

"Whatta I supposed to do about these?" In the middle of Nigger Mayor scowling at being confronted with reality, a rock through his window made his eyes spin like Laurel & Hardy. When we got to the street, the rocks showered City Hall like Robin Hood's arrows. The fat middle-class foolish nigger called to his hoodlums-mostly Italian, but with some young niggers fronting. One, the chief, with a huge 'fro and crimson-and-gold dashiki, had gone to Harvard-N.Y. clean, really. But then the lower-echelon state hit men came on horseback and in squad cars. On foot, the crowd had been walking. Now they rolled, and young dudes waiting for this shit whipped out crowbars and bashed store windows down Main Street, punctuating the sirens. Crisscross, the police cars wheeling, knocking people over. A new technique: high speed, then last minute, wheel around in a sharp turn, bashing the rebels into the sidewalk or up against the building. Conrad and the others, in the middle of the people, jumped to the sidewalk just in time. The cop car smashed one of the Leopards, sideswiped him twenty feet across the ground, but undead. The pigs scrambled out and leaped at his chest, wailing with sticks. Conrad said, "Walk, walk. Slow down. Don't run, just check 'em out."

The beatings went on. The whole of Main Street filled up with new storm troopers. Whites scowling. Blacks peeping. But all almost on the line to kill for the twelve thousand, if they had to.

A roll of poor people running against the shoetops of the mighty, whose blue louses came out from between the toes to beat and maim and murder. Demonstrations would go on, more protests. José Liga, head of the Revolutionary Puerto Rican Communist Organization, Conrad Barker of the L.A.F., Leopard leaders, and community and student groups, held a press conference announcing they would march in the streets-no matter that the nigger weasel downtown had banned it. "Fuck you, weasel!" was their simple rejoinder. And march they did, filling the streets, the downtown, and the park with denunciations of the neocolonial niggers and collaborating Puerto Ricans, the state's pitiful hit men, and the state itself-the instrument of the du Ponts, Mellons, Rockefellers, Fords, &c. It went well. And Pander and his student people were there too, marching with the rest. Standing in the crowd, trying to grin. This was after the meeting, the criticism, the slender memory. The knowledge that even fleeing, reality remains in reality. Were these their class origins? The petit bourgeois thrust at socialist rap. The years of narrow nationalism and polygamous opportunism? Suburban privilege? Or what?

The day Pander arrived with his head split open, red pants, saying he was digging Sly and the F.S. The white boy with him rapped about left opportunism and narrow nationalism. He had thick glasses and Lucky strained to like him because he wanted to be a socialist and abandon his black chauvinism. His hatred of whites. So he described it to Conrad, what the sectarian shoot-out had been, in tones that showed he wanted to deal with these socialists. But Conrad, looking from the back of the truck where he stood waiting to speak, was wondering what Pander and the young white revolutionary Gruen had explained to their people. At the point of the police attack, they shouted to nobody and everybody, "Let's get outta here, we ain't gonna get killed!" and sped away in their three- and four-year-old cars.

Who were these people? And what had their criticism outside City Hall consisted of? Would they help smash the capitalist system? How? Conrad swallowed and got ready to speak "people."

He began, "People, people. We gonna win anyway!"

The crowd agreed and hollered.

February 1974


Excerpted from Tales of the Out & the Gone by Amiri Baraka Copyright © 2007 by Amiri Baraka. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Amiri Baraka is the author of numerous books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. He was named Poet Laureate of New Jersey by the N.J. Commission on Humanities, from 2002-2004. His last two books of poetry, Somebody Blew Up America & Other Poems and Un Poco Low Coup received tremendous critical acclaim.

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