The Last Poets


An audacious novel about New York’s legendary hip-hop pioneers

Harlem, 1969. The air is charged with hope and revolution; the Black Panthers are in their prime. This is the backdrop against which The Last Poets wrote their passionate, self-critical poetry. Some twenty years later, young hip-hop bands drew on The Last Poets’ legacy, making them the ‘founding fathers’ of hip-hop.

Christine Otten’s audacious novel is based on the The Last Poets’ life stories, from their youth in the ghetto to their love lives, triumphs, and defeats.

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Publication date

October 2, 2018


Christine Otten

Christine Otten is a Dutch writer, journalist, and performer. The Last Poets, her literary breakthrough … Read more

Book club questions

  1. Why do you think Umar Bin Hassan received most attention? Were there any other characters you would have preferred to read more about?
  2. Could you personally relate to Umar, who had so many extreme life experiences?
  3. Did you feel like you got a complete, historical record of The Last Poets? Was that even something you were looking for in this novel?
  4. What did you think of the structure of the novel? Did it suit the musical theme and tone, as the author suggests? If so, how?
  5. Did this novel get you interested in listening to The Last Poets’ records?
  6. What happened to the revolution? Did The Last Poets contribute to any victories?
  7. Why didn’t The Last Poets manage to stick together? Were there religious reasons, perhaps, or was the question of ‘selling out’ most decisive?
  8. Who would you side with in the internal conflict within the group?
  9. Did Jalal and Fain receive enough attention? Did you sympathize with them?
  10. Did all The Last Poets share difficult childhoods? If not, who was more privileged?
  11. Did sex and violence play a role in several characters’ premature and involuntary steps into adulthood? In the absence of this, would their lives have been very different?
  12. Did you find the jumps in chronology and characters contributed to your experience of the story?
  13. Does it make a difference that the novel was written by a white Dutch woman (rather than a black American man)? If it does, how so?
  14. Did the novel teach you anything you didn’t know about racism in different places in the U.S. in the second half of the twentieth century?
  15. Is there a movement of African Americans today which is as strong and serious as the movements described in the book? What major differences do you see, perhaps also in the context they operate in?
  16. Do you see the legacy of the social engagement and political awareness of the Last Poets in rap today?
  17. Is there a contrast between the novel’s general representation of women and Umar’s attitude towards women?
  18. Did you find a specific female character particularly relatable?

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“Next to the Last Poets’ magnificent, terrifying, rococo This Is Madness, Allen Ginsberg’s Howl feels as reserved as TS Eliot. The Last Poets’ fierce performance poetry inspired generations of musicians, even as they destroyed themselves. Now they’re back—and as relevant as ever” —Guardian

“Christine is a real…white girl. A SERIOUS DUTCH WHITE GIRL! But she’s our white girl!” —UMAR BIN HASSAN, one of the Last Poets

“Otten imagines the last Poets as modern Romantics whose personal histories, performance styles and Afro-diasporic musical roots provide access to a sublime black aesthetic” —New York Times

“Christine Otten’s book does for the Last Poets what their modesty has never allowed these revolutionary icons to do for themselves—it humanizes them. The author writes at length about all nine of the men who have performed as Last Poets over the decades, recounting the wildly disparate personal details and historical pressures that led each member of the crew to decide to dedicate his life to poetry, community, and justice” —BILL ADLER

“Sometimes you read a novel that suddenly changes your life—this is one of them” HERMAN KOCH, author of The Dinner