‘Writing the book about The Last Poets changed my life’—Christine Otten

‘Writing the book about The Last Poets changed my life. Not only as a person but as an author, as well. After spending months in America with these audacious artists who were so ahead of their time I felt I could do anything as a writer, even making music with words, just like The Last Poets themselves. I was completely engulfed by their turbulent, at times violent life stories, especially the story of Umar Bin Hassan, the main character of the book. Raised in the ghetto of Akron, Ohio, being told “You ain’t shit” as a child, getting caught up in the Black Nationalist movement and striving to become a poet,  achieving that goal by writing the classic poem ‘Niggers are scared of revolution’ and becoming a Last Poet, yet not able to deal with the inner demons that haunted him since his troubled childhood, becoming a crack junkie and leaving wife and children, Umar Bin Hassan is ultimately saved by his own art when he hears his owns poems being sampled by young hip-hop artists.

This story of struggle, love and redemption is very relevant today. The Last Poets are still relevant, since race remains one of the most addressed and urgent matters of our time. Ultimately the book is about human resilience and beauty’s sustaining power. I remember Umar saying about his work: “You have to turn yourself inside out, until something raw and honest comes to the surface. Something unique, not like anything else”. To be able to write The Last Poets I definitely had to turn myself inside out. I am glad I did. It helped me understand who I am.’