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Nkombo a “little magazine” of the Black Arts Movement

Nkombo 3:1 (March 1971) with cover art by A.G. Bradley

Literary magazines, also known as “little magazines” have been publishing experimental literature and non-conformist writings since the late 19th Century. Popular throughout the early to late-20th Century, these magazines filled the void of commercial magazine publishing with avant-garde poetry and prose that stretched the boundaries of acceptable societal and moral norms and behavior. Many literary greats, such as Ernest Hemmingway and James Joyce got their start in “little magazines.”

Nkombo, an important contribution to the Black Arts Movement in the south, published in nine issues between 1968 to 1974, was the brain child of New Orleans poets and writers, Tom Dent and Kalamu ya Salaam (aka Val Ferdinand). The first issue of the magazine was published in 1968 as Echoes from the Gumbo with content from the Free Southern Theater’s community poetry and writing workshops, conducted by Tom Dent and Bob “Big Daddy” Costley. Quickly, the magazine’s name was changed to Nkombo, a word in Bantu and the origin of the English word “Gumbo.” It provided a forum for not only New Orleans black writers, but a collective of writers throughout the south.

Press Release, “BLACKARTSOUTH Workshop Organized in New Orleans, July 1, 1969.

The magazine was published by Nkombo Publications, the literary arm of BLACKARTSOUTH, the community writing and acting workshop of the Free Southern Theater. The BLACARTSOUTH group was a way for emerging black poets and playwrights to develop and showcase their work and performances were held at a variety of venues throughout the south. Nkombo’s content covered a range of issues including race relations, sexuality, politics, and violence, often using profanity and shocking word usage. Nkombo writers drew from local settings and traditions; music, poverty, and daily strife were often highlighted in the poetry and prose. The magazine featured female writers, such as Alice Walker and Margaret Walker Alexander. Other writers published in Nkombo, include David Henderson, Keorapetse Kgositsile, and Octave Lilly.

Nkombo No. 9 (June 1974)

Images from the Nkombo Publications Records, Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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