Template:Infobox Writer Amiri Baraka (born October 7, 1934), formerly known as LeRoi Jones, is an American writer of poetry, drama, fiction, essays, and music criticism. An often controversial figure, he is the author of numerous books of poetry and has taught at a number of universities, including the State University of New York at Buffalo and the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Baraka was born Everett LeRoy Jones in Newark, New Jersey, where he attended Barringer High School. His father, Coyt Leverette Jones, worked as a postal supervisor and lift operator. His mother, Anna Lois (née Russ), was a social worker. In 1967 he adopted the African name Imamu Amear Baraka, which he later changed to Amiri Baraka.
The Universities where he studied were Rutgers, Columbia, and Howard Universities, leaving without a degree, and the New School for Social Research. He won a scholarship to Rutgers University in 1951, but a continuing sense of cultural dislocation prompted him to transfer in 1952 to Howard University. His major fields of study were philosophy and religion. Baraka also served three years in the U.S. Air Force as a gunner. Baraka continued his studies of comparative literature at Columbia University.
Baraka studied philosophy and religion 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 gardening 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 Beat, Black Mountain College and New York School poets. In 1958 he married Hettie Cohen and founded Totem Press, which published such Beat Generation icons as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Their literary magazine Yugen lasted for eight issues (1958–62). Baraka also worked as editor and critic for Kulchur (1960–65). With Diane DiPrima he edited the first twenty-five issues (1961–63) of their little magazine Floating Bear.
Baraka visited Cuba in July 1960 with a Fair Play for Cuba Committee delegation and reported his impressions in his essay Cuba libre. In 1961 Baraka co-authored a Declaration of Conscience in support of Fidel Castro's regime. Baraka also was a member of the Umbra Poets Workshop of emerging Black Nationalist writers (Ishmael Reed, Lorenzo Thomas and many others) on the Lower East Side (1962–65). He had begun to be a politically active artist. In 1961 a first book of poems, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, was published, followed in 1963 by Blues People: Negro Music in White America—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 play Dutchman premiered in 1964 and received an Obie Award the same year.
After the assassination of Malcolm X (1965), Baraka left his wife and their two children and moved to Harlem. Now a black cultural nationalist, he broke away from the basically white Beat Generation. And he became very critical of the pacifist and integrationist Civil Rights movement. His revolutionary and now antisemitic poetry became controversial A poem like “Black Art” (1969), according to academic Werner Sollors from Harvard University, expressed his need to commit the violence required to “establish a Black World.” Rather than use poetry as an escapist mechanism, Baraka saw poetry as a weapon of action. His poetry demanded violence against those he felt were responsible for an unjust society.
In 1966, Baraka married his second wife, Sylvia Robinson, who later adopted the name Amina Baraka. In 1967 he lectured at San Francisco State University In 1968, he was arrested in Newark for allegedly carrying an illegal weapon and resisting arrest during the 1967 Newark riots, and was subsequently sentenced to three years in prison; shortly afterward an appeals court reversed the sentence based on his defense by attorney, Raymond A. Brown. That 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 A. 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 third-world liberation movements. In 1979 he became a lecturer SUNY-Stony Brook's Africana Studies Department. 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.
In 1984 Baraka became a full professor at Rutgers University, but was subsequently denied tenure. 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. In 1996, Baraka contributed to the AIDS benefit album Offbeat: A Red Hot Soundtrip produced by the Red Hot Organization.
In 2003, Baraka's daughter Shani, age 31, and her lesbian partner, Rayshon Homes, were murdered in the home of Shani's sister, Wanda Wilson Pasha, by Pasha's ex-husband, James Coleman. Prosecutors argued that Coleman shot Shani because she has helped her sister separate from her husband. A New Jersey jury found Coleman (also known as Ibn El-Amin Pasha) guilty of murdering Shani Baraka and Rayshon Holmes and sentenced him to 168 years in prison for the 2003 shooting.
In 2010, Baraka's poetic audio clips were used in Kanye Wests new released album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in the final song "Lost In The World" featuring his dramatic reading of Gil-Scott Heron's "Who will survive in America".
Baraka's writings have generated controversy over the years, particularly his advocacy of rape and violence 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.
The following is 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.
In 2009, he was again asked about the quote, and placed it in a personal and political perspective:
Those quotes are from the essays in Home, a book written almost fifty years ago. The anger was part of the mindset created by, first, the assassination of John Kennedy, followed by the Assassination of Patrice Lumumba, followed by the assassination of Malcolm X amidst the lynching, and national oppression. A few years later, the assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. What changed my mind was that I became a Marxist, after recognizing classes within the Black community and the class struggle even after we had worked and struggled to elect the first Black Mayor of Newark, Kenneth Gibson.
Amiri Baraka wrote a poem titled "Somebody Blew Up America" about the September 11, 2001 attacks. 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. The Anti-Defamation League denounced the poem as anti-Semitic, though Baraka and his defenders defined his position as Anti-Zionism.
Baraka was named Poet Laureate of New Jersey nine months after the attacks, in July 2002. 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.
Baraka has received honors from a number of prestigious foundations, including: fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Langston Hughes Award from the City College of New York, The Rockefeller Foundation Award for Drama, an induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Before Columbus Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.
- 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
- A Black Mass (1966), a play is based on the Nation of Islam narrative of Yakub
- Tales, 1967
- Black Magic, poems, 1969
- Four Black Revolutionary Plays, 1969
- Slave Ship, 1970
- 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
- Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women, 1983 (edited with Amina Baraka)
- 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, a long poem, 1995
- Funk Lore: New Poems, 1996.
- Somebody Blew Up America, 2001
- The Book of Monk, 2005
- Tales of the Out & the Gone, 2006
- Billy Harper: Blueprints of Jazz, Volume 2, Audio CD, 2008
- Ancient Music
- One P.M. (1972)
- Fried Shoes Cooked Diamonds (1978) .... Himself
- Black Theatre: The Making of a Movement (1978) .... Himself
- Furious Flower: A Video Anthology of African American Poetry 1960-95, Volume II: Warriors (1998) .... Himself
- Bulworth (1998) .... Rastaman
- Piñero (2001) .... Himself
- Strange Fruit (2002) .... Himself
- Ralph Ellison: An American Journey (2002) .... Himself
- Chisholm '72: Unbought & Unbossed (2004) .... Himself
- Keeping Time: The Life, Music & Photography of Milt Hinton (2004) .... Himself
- Hubert Selby Jr: It/ll Be Better Tomorrow (2005) .... Himself
- 500 Years Later (2005) (voice) .... Himself
- The Ballad of Greenwich Village (2005) .... Himself
- The Pact (2006) .... Himself
- Retour à Gorée (2007) .... Himself
- Polis Is This: Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place (2007)
- Revolution '67 (2007) .... Himself
- Turn Me On (2007) (TV) .... Himself
- Oscene (2007) .... Himself
- Corso: The Last Beat (2008)
- The Black Candle (2008)
- Ferlinghetti: A City Light (2008) .... Himself
- Motherland (film) (2010)
- In cooperation with Corinth, Totem published books by LeRoi Jones and Diane DiPrima, Ron Loewinsohn, Michael McClure, Charles Olson, Paul Blackburn, Frank O'Hara, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Ed Dorn, Joel Oppenheimer and Gilbert Sorrentino. An anthology of four young woman poets featured Carol Berge, Barbara Moraff, Rochelle Owens, Diane Wakoski.
- Birmingham, Jed. "Yugen", RealityStudio, April 30, 2006. Accessed January 18, 2010
- Baraka, Amiri. Anthology of Modern American Poetry. Ed. Cary Nelson. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. 997. Print.
- The Fair Play for Cuba Committee was brought to nation-wide attention through an April 1960 advertisment in the New York Times funded by Castro. FPCC's founder and first leader was CBS newsman Robert Taber. The FPCC fast had 7000 members in 25 adult chapters and 40 student councils. The July trip included writers Julian Mayfield, Harold Cruse, historian John Henrik Clarke and militant NAACP leader Robert F. Williams. In December 1960 a 326-member strong FPCC delegation visited the island. Cuba libre was first published in the Evergreen Review, Vol. 4, No. 15, Nov.-Dec. 1960.
- The Declaration of Conscience was written and signed by Margaret Randall, Marc Schleifer (now a Jewish convert to Islam), Elaine de Kooning, Leroi Jones, Diane DiPrima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Norman Mailer and published in the Monthly Review.
- Anthology of Modern American Poetry. Ed. Cary Nelson. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. 997. Print.
- Sollors, Werner. Amiri Baraka / LeRoi Jones: The Quest for a "Populist Modernism." Columbia UP, 1978.
- Harris, William J. The Poetry and Poetics of Amiri Baraka: The Jazz Aesthetic. U of Missouri P, 1985.
- See back cover of his book Funk Lore.
- Berger, Joseph. "Raymond A. Brown, Civil Rights Lawyer, Dies at 94", The New York Times, October 11, 2009. Accessed October 12, 2009
- Hanley, Robert. "Rutgers Students' Sit-In Turns Mellow", The New York Times, May 11, 1990.
- Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
- Robert Hanley, "Daughter of Controversial Poet Is Killed at Her Sister's Home", The New York Times (August 14, 2003)
- Zook, Kristal Brent (2006). Black Women's Lives: Stories of Pain and Power. Nation Books. pp. 44. ISBN 1560257903.
- Serrano, Ken. "Man again seeks to overturn conviction for murder of two women in Piscataway". mycentraljersey.com. http://www.mycentraljersey.com/article/20100731/NEWS/7310313/Man-again-seeks-to-overturn-conviction-for-murder-of-two-women-in-Piscataway. Retrieved 20 August 2010.
- "Metro Briefing: New Jersey: New Brunswick: Conviction In 2 Killings". The New York Times. July 12, 2005. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9805E1DD1530F931A25754C0A9639C8B63. Retrieved 20 August 2010.
- 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.
- Liukkonen, Petri (2008). "Amiri Baraka". Authors' Calendar. http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/baraka.htm. Retrieved 2 December 2010.
- Jerry Gafio Watts. Amiri Baraka: The Politics and Art of a Black Intellectual. NYU Press, 2001. pg 332.
- Erskine, Sophie (4 June 2009). "Art is a Weapon in the Struggle of Ideas: Interviewing Amiri Baraka". 3:AM Magazine. http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/art-is-a-weapon-in-the-struggle-of-ideas-an-interview-with-amiri-baraka/. Retrieved 2 December 2010.
- Amiri Baraka, online.
- 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)
- Anti-Defamation League AMIRI BARAKA: IN HIS OWN WORDS
- Via Associated Press. "Newark: Court Will Not Hear Poet’s Lawsuit", The New York Times, November 14, 2007. Accessed November 26, 2007.
- 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."
- Poets.org: Amiri Baraka.
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