CHICAGO — Haki Madhubuti began his publishing career standing on street corners, hawking his first book of poetry for a dollar a copy. His Third World Press observed its 20th anniversary.
Many black writers consider Third World Press, begun out of Madhubuti's basement apartment with a mimeograph machine, one of the nation's premier publishing houses for their work.
It has published 120 titles and about 2 million volumes since its birth in the turbulence of the 1960s black power movement, said Madhubuti, who is also an associate professor of English at Chicago State University.
"It never entered my mind to send my work to New York or West Coast publishers, because I came from the streets and street logic said if you're critical of white people, it's not logical to send your work to them and ask them to publish it and pay you for it," he said Friday.
Pulitzer Prize Winner
Third World, one of only a few black publishing houses in the United States, has published such writers as Gwendolyn Brooks, a Pulitzer Prize winner and Illinois poet laureate, and historian Chancellor Williams, author of "The Destruction of Black Civilization."
To honor the anniversary, a dinner and a writer's conference was held earlier this month at Chicago State University.
"I think Third World is very important because it has provided a platform for many young people who weren't being published by Macmillan and the other big houses," Brooks said. "I have all the admiration in the world for Madhubuti's perseverance, strength and courage, because so many black presses have died."
In 1966, Madhubuti published his first poetry, "Think Black," paying a printer $350 for 1,000 copies of the 60-page book.
"I stood on corners on the South Side and West Side of Chicago and sold the book for a dollar a piece. I sold about 600 in a week," he recalled, laughing.
His second book of poetry, "Black Pride," was published soon after by Broadside Press, an established black publishing house in Detroit. The recognition brought speaking engagements, and he used the money to buy a mimeograph machine and start Third World Press in his basement with Johari Amini.
While Third World has won the battle to survive, Madhubuti said blacks and other minorities are still fighting racism.
"I think that the war is still on," he said. "Chicago is still a very racist, very segregated city. You see the same kind of thing across the country. What we need is continuing education and an institution that will continue to fight it. The next 20 years are going to be just as difficult as the last 20 years."