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Umbra was the first post-civil rights Black literary group to make an impact as radical in the sense of establishing their own voice distinct from, and sometimes at odds with, the prevailing white literary establishment. The attempt to merge a Black-oriented activist thrust with a primarily artistic orientation produced a classic split in Umbra between those who wanted to be activists and those who thought of themselves as primarily writers, though to some extent all members shared both views. Black writers have always had to face the issue of whether their work was primarily political or aesthetic. Moreover, Umbra itself had evolved out of similar circumstances: in 1960 a Black nationalist literary organization, On Guard for Freedom, had been founded on the Lower East Side by Calvin Hicks. Its members included Nannie and Walter Bowe, Harold Cruse (who was then working on The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, 1967), Tom Dent, Rosa Guy, Joe Johnson, LeRoi Jones, and Sarah Wright, among others. On Guard was active in a famous protest at the United Nations of the American-sponsored Bay of Pigs Cuban invasion and was active in support of the Congolese liberation leader Patrice Lumumba. From On Guard, Dent, Johnson, and Walcott along with Hernton, Henderson, and Touré established Umbra.
The Umbra collective produced Umbra Magazine, which grew out of Friday-night workshops, meetings, and readings on Manhattan's Lower East Side in summer 1962, "and out of the need expressed for it at those meetings".
- Steve Cannon
- Thomas Covington Dent/Tom Dent
- Al Haynes
- David Henderson
- Calvin C. Hernton
- Joe Johnson
- Norman Pritchard
- Lennox Raphael
- Ishmael Reed
- Archie Shepp, musician-writer
- Lorenzo Thomas
- James Thompson
- Askia M. Touré (Roland Snellings; also a visual artist)
- Brenda Walcott
Askia Touré, a major shaper of "cultural nationalism," directly influenced LeRoi Jones, along with Umbra writer Charles Patterson and Charles's brother, William Patterson. Touré joined Jones, Steve Young, and others at BART/S (Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School).
- Fortune, Angela Joy, "Keeping the Communal Tradition of the Umbra Poets: Creating Space for Writing", Black History Bulletin, Vol. 75, No. 1, Spring 2012.]
- "Umbra and Lower East Side Poetics" in Daniel Kane, All Poets Welcome: The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960s, University of California Press, 2003, pp. 79–90.