Amiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka

Infobox Writer

name = Amiri Baraka
caption = Amiri Baraka addressing the Malcom X Festival in San Antonio Park, Oakland, California
pseudonym =
birthdate = Birth date and age|1934|10|7|mf=y
birthplace = Newark, New Jersey (U.S.) flagicon|USA
occupation = Actor, teacher, theater director/producer, writer, activist
nationality = American
ethnic heritage = African-American
period = 1961 - Present
genre = Poetry, Drama
movement =
notableworks =
influences = Richard Wright
influenced = John S. Hall
website =

Amiri Baraka (born October 7, 1934) is an American writer of poetry, drama, essays and music criticism.


Early life

Baraka, a convert to Islam, [The Cambridge handbook of American literature, By Jack Salzman, Cameron Bardrick, pg.16] was born Everett LeRoi Jones in Newark, New Jersey, where he attended Barringer High School. [ [ Message from Amiri Baraka, New Jersey and Newark Schools' Poet Laureate] , dated July 1, 2003, accessed April 13, 2007. "Now, in an attempt to prevent my appearance at Barringer High School (my alma mater) June 30, to give the Commencement Address, they threatened to picket Barringer and otherwise cause disruption."] His father, Coyette LeRoi Jones, worked as a postal supervisor and lift operator, and his mother, Anna Lois (née Russ), was a social worker. [ [ Amiri Baraka Biography (1934-)] ] [ [ | The international artist database | Amiri Baraka] ] [ [ PAL: Amiri Baraka / LeRoi Jones (1934- )] ] [ [ Kjali Dialogue with Amiri Baraka - Part I] ] [ [ Amiri Baraka] ] In 1952, he changed his name to LeRoi Jones. In 1967 he adopted the African name Imamu Ameer Baraka, which he later changed to Amiri Baraka.

1934 - 1965

Baraka studied philosophy and religious studies at Rutgers University, Columbia University and Howard University without obtaining a degree. In 1954 he joined the US Air Force, reaching the rank of sergeant. After an anonymous letter to his commanding officer accusing him of being a communist led to the discovery of Soviet writings, Baraka was put on kitchen duty and given a dishonorable discharge for violation of his oath of duty.

The same year he moved to Greenwich Village working initially in a warehouse for music records. His interest in jazz began in this period. At the same time he came into contact with the incipient movement of Beat Poets that was going to have a powerful influence on his early poetry. In 1958, Jones founded Totem Press, which published such Beat icons as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. The same year he married Hettie Cohen and with her became joint editor of the "Yugen" literary magazine (until 1963).

In 1960 he went to Cuba, a visit that initiated his transformation into a politically active artist. In 1961 "Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note" was published, followed in 1963 by "" - to this day one of the most influential volumes of jazz criticism, especially in regard to the then beginning Free Jazz movement. His acclaimed controversial [ [ Dutchman: Movies & TV: Shirley Knight,Al Freeman Jr.,Frank Lieberman,Robert Calvert (II),Howard Bennett,Sandy McDonald,Dennis Alaba Peters,Keith James,Devon Hall,Anthony Harvey (II)] ] play dn"Dutchman" premiered in 1964 and received an Obie Award the same year.After the assassination of Malcolm X, Baraka broke free from the Beat Poets. He left his wife and their two children and moved to Harlem, considering himself at that time a "black cultural nationalist".Fact|date=February 2008 Later, Hettie Cohen, in her autobiography "How I Became Hettie Jones" (1996), claimed that Baraka had mistreated her during the time of their marriage.

1966 - 1980

In 1966, Baraka married his second wife who later adopted the name Amina Baraka. In 1967 he became a lecturer at San Francisco State University. In 1968, he was arrested in Newark for illegally carrying a weapon and resisting arrest during riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and sentenced to three years in prison. Shortly afterwards an appeals court threw out the sentence. The same year his second book of jazz criticism "Black Music" came out, a collection of previously published music journalism, including the seminal "Apple Cores" columns from "Down Beat" magazine. In 1970 he strongly supported Kenneth Gibson's candidacy for mayor of Newark; Gibson was elected the city's first Afro-American Mayor. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Baraka courted controversy by penning some strongly anti-Jewish poems and articles, similar to the stance at that time of the Nation of Islam.

Around 1974, Baraka distanced himself from Black nationalism and became a Marxist and a supporter of anti-imperialist third world liberation movements. In 1979 he became a lecturer at SUNY-Stony Brook for the "Africana Studies Department", and was greatly admired by his students. The same year, after altercations with his wife, he was sentenced to a short period of compulsory community service. Around this time he began writing his autobiography. In 1980 he denounced his former anti-semitic utterances, declaring himself an anti-zionist.

1980 - today

In 1984 Baraka became a full professor at Rutgers University, but was subsequently denied tenure.fact|date=July 2008 In 1987, together with Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, he was a speaker at the commemoration ceremony for James Baldwin. In 1989 he won an American Book Award for his works as well as a Langston Hughes Award. In 1990 he co-authored the autobiography of Quincy Jones, and 1998 was a supporting actor in Warren Beatty's film "Bulworth".

Baraka collaborated with hip hop group The Roots on the song "Something in the Way of Things (In Town)" on their 2002 album Phrenology.

In 2003, Baraka's daughter Shani, age 31, was murdered in Piscataway Township, New Jersey.


Baraka's writings have generated controversy over the years, particularly his use of often-violent imagery directed towards (at various times) women, gay people, white people, and Jews. Critics of his work have alternately described such usage as ranging from being vernacular expressions of Black oppression to outright examples of racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism that they perceive in his work. [David L. Smith . Amiri Baraka and the Black Arts of Black Art . "boundary 2". Vol. 15, No. 1/2 (Autumn, 1986), pp. 235-254.] [Charles H. Rowell. An Interview With Henry Louis Gates, Jr. "Callaloo". Vol. 14, No. 2 (Spring, 1991), pp. 444-463.] [Marlon B. Ross . Camping the Dirty Dozens: The Queer Resources of Black Nationalist Invective. "Callaloo". Vol. 23, No. 1, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender: Literature and Culture (Winter, 2000), pp. 290-312.] The following is a typical example cited, from a 1965 essay:

"Most American white men are trained to be fags. For this reason it is no wonder their faces are weak and blank. … The average ofay [white person] thinks of the black man as potentially raping every white lady in sight. Which is true, in the sense that the black man should want to rob the white man of everything he has. But for most whites the guilt of the robbery is the guilt of rape. That is, they know in their deepest hearts that they should be robbed, and the white woman understands that only in the rape sequence is she likely to get cleanly, viciously popped". [Jerry Gafio Watts. "Amiri Baraka: The Politics and Art of a Black Intellectual". NYU Press, 2001. pg 332]

Amiri Baraka was New Jersey’s Poet Laureate at the time of the September 11, 2001 attacks. He wrote a poem titled "Somebody Blew Up America" [ [ "Amiri Baraka," on line.] ] about the event. The poem was controversial and highly critical of racism in America, and includes angry depictions of public figures such as Trent Lott, Clarence Thomas, and Condoleezza Rice. The poem also contains lines claiming Israel's involvement in the World Trade Center attacks:

"Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed"
"Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers"
"To stay home that day"
"Why did Sharon stay away?"


"Who know why Five Israelis was filming the explosion"
"And cracking they sides at the notion"

Baraka has said that he believed Israelis (and President George W. Bush) were involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, citing what he described as information that had been reported in the American and Israeli press and on Jordanian television. He denies that the poem is anti-Semitic, and points to its accusation, which is directed against Israelis, rather than Jews as a people. [ [ Katherine Stevens, "Baraka refutes criticism. Controversial N.J. poet laureate denies accusations of racism", "Yale Daily News" (February 25, 2003)] ] [ [ Jeremy Pearce, "When poetry seems to matter", "The New York Times" (February 9, 2003)] ] The Anti-Defamation League was amongst the critics who denounced the poem as anti-Semitic. [Anti-Defamation League [ AMIRI BARAKA: IN HIS OWN WORDS] ] , though Baraka and his defenders to defined his position as Anti-Zionism.

After this poem's publication, Governor Jim McGreevey tried to remove Baraka from the post, only to discover that there was no legal way to do so. In 2003, after legislation was passed allowing him to do so, McGreevey abolished the NJ Poet Laureate title. In response to legal action filed by Baraka, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that state officials were immune from such suits, and in November 2007 the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear an appeal of the case. [via Associated Press. [ "Newark: Court Will Not Hear Poet’s Lawsuit"] , "The New York Times", November 14, 2007. Accessed November 26, 2007.]

Baraka was named the poet laureate of the Newark Public Schools in December 2002. [Jacobs, Andrew. [ "Criticized Poet Is Named Laureate of Newark Schools"] , "The New York Times", December 19, 2002. Accessed September 19, 2008. "A longtime Newark resident who was pivotal in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960's, Mr. Baraka has ignored calls from Gov. James E. McGreevey and others that he resign the post, which pays a stipend of $10,000."]


*"Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note", poems, 1961
*"Blues People: Negro Music in White America", 1963
*"Dutchman and The Slave", drama, 1964
*"The System of Dante's Hell", novel, 1965
*"Home: Social Essays", 1965
*"Tales", 1967
*"Black Magic", poems, 1969
*"Four Black Revolutionary Plays", 1969
*"It's Nation Time", poems, 1970
*"Raise Race Rays Raize: Essays Since 1965", 1971
*"Hard Facts", poems, 1975
*"The Motion of History and Other Plays", 1978
*"Poetry for the Advanced", 1979
*"reggae or not!", 1981
*"Daggers and Javelins: Essays 1974-1979", 1984
*"The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka", 1984
*"The Music: Reflections on Jazz and Blues", 1987
*"Transbluesency: The Selected Poems of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones, 1995
*"Wise, Why’s Y’s", essays, 1995
*"Funk Lore: New Poems", 1996.
*"Somebody Blew Up America", 2001
*"Tales of the Out & the Gone", 2006

Film Appearances

* Motherland (film) (2009)
* Ferlinghetti: A City Light (2008) .... Himself
* The Black Candle (2008)
* Corso: The Last Beat (2008)
* Oscene (2007) .... Himself
* Turn Me On (2007) (TV) .... Himself
* Revolution '67 (2007) .... Himself
* Polis Is This: Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place (2007)
* Retour à Gorée (2007) .... Himself
* The Pact (2006) .... Himself
* The Ballad of Greenwich Village (2005) .... Himself
* 500 Years Later (2005) (voice) .... Himself
* Hubert Selby Jr: It'll Be Better Tomorrow (2005) .... Himself
* Keeping Time: The Life, Music & Photography of Milt Hinton (2004) .... Himself
* Chisholm '72: Unbought & Unbossed (2004) .... Himself
* Ralph Ellison: An American Journey (2002) .... Himself
* Strange Fruit (2002) .... Himself
* Piñero (2001) .... Himself
* Bulworth (1998) .... Rastaman
* Furious Flower: A Video Anthology of African American Poetry 1960-95, Volume II: Warriors (1998) .... Himself
* Black Theatre: The Making of a Movement (1978) .... Himself
* Fried Shoes Cooked Diamonds (1978) .... Himself
* One P.M. (1972)


External links

*worldcat id|id=lccn-n79-108930
* [ Baraka at IMDB]
* [ homepage of Amiri Baraka]
* [ Amiri Baraka Discography Project]
* [ Modern American Poetry Page: Amiri Baraka]
* [ 1984 interview with Amiri Baraka] by Don Swaim at Wired for Books
* [ John Derybshire review]
* [ Amiri Baraka Multimedia Directory - Kerouac Alley]

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