Amiri Baraka
Amiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka

About Amiri Baraka

Poet, playwright, critic, and novelist Amiri Baraka (born Everett LeRoi Jones) was best known to the jazz community for his two books, Blues People: Negro Music in White America, published in 1964, and Black Music in 1967, both as LeRoi Jones. Long before this, however, Baraka was identified with the New York School of poets and the Beats (he was included in Donald Allen's seminal anthology The New American Poetry). His first book of poetry, Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note, was published in 1961. With Diane Di Prima he founded and edited the legendary Floating Bear newsletter. Baraka founded the Black Arts Repertory Theater/School and won an Obie Award for his play Dutchman in 1964. He was an outspoken leader in the black nationalist movement in the late '60s and was a close associate -- as well as spiritual godfather -- to the Black Panther Party. He changed his name to Imamu Amiri Baraka, and later dropped "Imamu" (a Muslim word for "spiritual leader") in 1970. Remaining an activist, Baraka dropped his nationalist stance in 1974 and adopted a Marxist/Leninist one, and was regarded as one of the most influential African-American writers of the 20th century. He recorded the wildly controversial play Black Mass with Sun Ra & His Arkestra in 1968 (issued on the Jihad label) and the amazing New Music New Poetry with saxophonist David Murray in 1980 on India Navigation. Baraka added one more volume to his shelf of music criticism, The Music: Reflections on Jazz and Blues, which he and Amina Baraka, his wife, published in 1987. Baraka taught at SUNY Buffalo and Columbia University, and was a professor of Africana studies at SUNY, Stony Brook. A resident of Newark, New Jersey, Baraka was appointed New Jersey poet laureate until the position was abolished during the controversy surrounding his post-9/11 poem "Somebody Blew Up America." Amiri Baraka died at Newark's Beth Israel Medical Center on January 9, 2014, following complications from surgery. He was 79 years old. ~ Thom Jurek

  • HOMETOWN
    Newark, NJ
  • BORN
    October 7, 1934

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