Amiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka (1934-2014) in 2007. Photo by David Sasaki. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Amiri Baraka
Born October 7, 1934(1934-Template:MONTHNUMBER-07)
Newark, New Jersey, United States
Died 9, 2014(2014-Template:MONTHNUMBER-09) (aged 79)
Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
Occupation Actor, teacher, theater director/producer, writer, activist
Nationality United States American
Period 1961–2014
Genres poetry, drama
Children Kellie Jones, Lisa Jones, Dominque DiPrima, Maria Jones, Shani Baraka, Obalaji Baraka, Ras Baraka, Ahi Baraka, and Amiri Baraka
Amiri Baraka (October 7, 1934 - January 9, 2014) was an African-American poet and playwright.[1] He was the author of numerous books, and 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.

Life Edit

Youth and educationEdit

Baraka was born Everett LeRoi 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 (Russ), was a social worker. In 1967 he adopted the African name Imamu Amear Baraka, which he later changed to Amiri Baraka.

Baraka studied at Rutgers, Columbia, and Howard Universities, leaving each 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.

He earned a B.A. in 1953.[1]


After graduating in 1954, Baraka served more than 2 years in the U.S. Air Force as a gunner, reaching the rank of sergeant.[2] 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.[3]

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 the 1960s LeRoi Jones as he was known then sat around in the village cafes and his notebooks had a large image on the covers of an erect penis as his symbol so we know where his mind was at that time. See the covers of his notebooks at that time for authentication of this disturbing fact. In 1958 he married Hettie Cohen and founded Totem Press, which published such Beat Generation icons as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.[4] Their literary magazine Yugen lasted for eight issues (1958–62).[5] Baraka also worked as editor and critic for Kulchur (1960–65). With Diane DiPrima he edited the first 25 issues (1961-1963) of their little magazine Floating Bear.[6]

Baraka visited Cuba in July 1960 with a Fair Play for Cuba Committee delegation and reported his impressions in his essay Cuba libre.[7] In 1961 Baraka co-authored a Declaration of Conscience in support of Fidel Castro's regime.[8] 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 1965 assassination of Malcolm X, Baraka left his wife and their 2 children and moved to Harlem. Now a black cultural nationalist, he broke away from the basically white Beat Generation and became very critical of the pacifist and integrationist Civil Rights movement. His revolutionary poetry now became more controversial.[9] 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.”[10] Rather than use poetry as an escapist mechanism, Baraka saw poetry as a weapon of action.[11] His poetry demanded violence against those he felt were responsible for an unjust society.


In 1966, Baraka married his 2nd wife, Sylvia Robinson, who later adopted the name Amina Baraka.[12] In 1967 he lectured at San Francisco State University. The year after, he was arrested in Newark for having allegedly carried an illegal weapon and resisting arrest during the 1967 Newark riots, and was subsequently sentenced to 3 years in prison. Shortly afterward an appeals court reversed the sentence based on his defense by attorney, Raymond A. Brown.[13] 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.(Citation needed)

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.(Citation needed) 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.(Citation needed)


During the 1982-1983 academic year, Baraka was a visiting professor at Columbia University, where he taught a course entitled "Black Women and Their Fictions." In 1984 Baraka became a full professor at Rutgers University, but was subsequently denied tenure.[14] 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 in 1998 he 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.

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, 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.[15][16] Prosecutors argued that Coleman shot Shani because she had helped her sister separate from her husband.[17] 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.[18]


Baraka's writings (and the covers of his early notebooks with large images of erect penises on the cover which were in open display in the Greenwich Vilage cafes he sat in) 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 the racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism they perceive in his work.[19][20][21][22]

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.[23]

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.[24]

"Somebody Blew Up America"Edit

Amiri Baraka wrote a poem titled "Somebody Blew Up America" about the September 11, 2001 attacks.[25] 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.[26][27] The Anti-Defamation League denounced the poem as anti-Semitic,[28] though Baraka and his defenders defined his position as Anti-Zionism.


Baraka died on January 9, 2014, at Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey, after being hospitalized in the facility's intensive care unit for a month prior to his death. The cause of death was not reported initially, but it is mentioned that Baraka had a long struggle with diabetes.[29] Later reports indicated that he died from complications after a recent surgery.[30] Baraka's funeral was held at Newark Symphony Hall on January 18, 2014.[31]


In July 2002, 10 months after the 9/11 attacks, Baraka was named Poet Laureate of New Jersey. After the publication of "Somebody Blew Up America", 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.[32]

In response to the attempts to remove Baraka as Poet Laureate of New Jersey, a nine-member advisory board named him the poet laureate of the Newark Public Schools in December 2002.[33]

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Amiri Baraka on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[34]

Baraka 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.[35]



  • April 13 (broadside). New Haven, CT: Penny Poems, 1959.
  • Spring and So Forth (broadside). New Haven, CT: Penny Poems, 1960.
  • Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note. Totem/Corinth, 1961.
  • The Disguise (broadside). New Haven, CT: 1961.
  • The Dead Lecturer. New York: Grove, 1964.
  • Black Art. Jihad, 1966.
  • Black Magic. New York: Morrow, 1967.
  • A Poem for Black Hearts. Broadside Press, 1967.
  • Black Magic: Sabotage; Target Study; Black Art: Collected poetry, 1961-1967. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969.
  • It’s Nation Time. Third World Press, 1970.
  • Spirit Reach. Jihad, 1972.
  • Afrikan Revolution. Jihad, 1973.
  • Hard Facts: Excerpts. People’s War, 1975
    • 2nd edition, Revolutionary Communist League, 1975.
  • Spring Song. Baraka, 1979.
  • AM/TRAK. Phoenix Bookshop, 1979.
  • Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka / LeRoi Jones (includes “Poetry for the Advanced”). New York: Morrow, 1979.
  • In the Tradition: For Black Arthur Blythe. Jihad, 1980.
  • Reggae or Not! Contact Two, 1982.
  • LeRoi Jones—Amiri. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1991.
  • Transbluency: The selected poems of Amiri Baraka / LeRoi Jones, 1961-1995 (edited by Paul Vangelisti). New York: Marsilio, 1995.
  • Funk Lore: New poems, 1984-1995 (edited by Paul Vangelisti). Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1996.
  • Beginnings, and other poems. Fredericksburg, VA: House of Nehesi, 2003.
  • Somebody Blew up America, and other poems. Philipsburg, St. Martin, Caribbean: House of Nehesi, 2003.
  • S.O.S.: Poems, 1961-2013 (edited by Paul Vangelisti). New York: Grove Press, 2014.[36]


  • Cuba Libre. New York: Fair Play for Cuba Committee, 1961.
  • Blues People: Negro music in white America. New York: Morrow, 1963; London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1965; Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980.
  • Home: Social essays (contains “Cuba Libre,” “The Myth of a ‘Negro Literature,’“ “Expressive Language,” “The Legacy of Malcolm X, and the Coming of the Black Nation,” and “State/ meant”). New York: Morrow, 1966; Hopewell, NJ: Ecco Press, 1998.
  • Black Music. New York: Morrow, 1968.
  • Raise, Race, Rays, Raze: Essays since 1965. New York: Random House, 1971.
  • Strategy and Tactics of a Pan-African Nationalist Party. Jihad, 1971.
  • Kawaida Studies: The new nationalism. Third World Press, 1972.
  • Crisis in Boston! Vita Wa Watu People’s War, 1974.
  • Daggers and Javelins: Essays, 1974-1979. New York: Morrow, 1984.
  • The Music: Reflections on jazz and blues (with wife, Amina Baraka). New York: Morrow, 1987.
  • Jesse Jackson and Black People, 1996.
  • The Essence of Reparation. Fredericksburg, VA: House of Nehesi, 2003.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[37]

Audio / videoEdit

Film appearancesEdit

  • 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)


Amiri Baraka "Somebody Blew Up America"

Amiri Baraka "Somebody Blew Up America"

  • Poetry with Jones. Pacifica Poetry Library, 1964.
  • Amiri Baraka (cassette). Kansas City, MO: New Letters, 1988.
  • Amiri Baraka II (cassette). Kansas City, MO: New Letters, [199-?]

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[38]

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 Amiri Baraka, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Web, Mar. 28, 2018.
  2. Schudel, Matt (January 10, 2014). "Amiri Baraka, 79: Architect of Black Arts movement". Washington Post: p. B5. 
  3. "Imamu Amiri Baraka African American Author". Citrus County, Florida: Black History in America. Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  4. 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.
  5. Birmingham, Jed. "Yugen", RealityStudio, April 30, 2006. Accessed January 18, 2010
  6. Baraka, Amiri. Anthology of Modern American Poetry. Ed. Cary Nelson. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. 997. Print.
  7. The Fair Play for Cuba Committee was brought to nation-wide attention through an April 1960 advertisement 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Anthology of Modern American Poetry. Ed. Cary Nelson. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. 997. Print.
  10. Sollors, Werner. Amiri Baraka / LeRoi Jones: The Quest for a "Populist Modernism." Columbia UP, 1978.
  11. Harris, William J. The Poetry and Poetics of Amiri Baraka: The Jazz Aesthetic. U of Missouri P, 1985.
  12. See back cover of his book Funk Lore.
  13. Berger, Joseph. "Raymond A. Brown, Civil Rights Lawyer, Dies at 94", The New York Times, October 11, 2009. Accessed October 12, 2009
  14. Hanley, Robert. "Rutgers Students' Sit-In Turns Mellow", The New York Times, May 11, 1990.
  15. Robert Hanley, "Daughter of Controversial Poet Is Killed at Her Sister's Home", The New York Times (August 14, 2003)
  16. Zook, Kristal Brent (2006). Black Women's Lives: Stories of Pain and Power. Nation Books. pp. 44. ISBN 1-56025-790-3. 
  17. Serrano, Ken. "Man again seeks to overturn conviction for murder of two women in Piscataway". Retrieved 20 August 2010. 
  18. "Metro Briefing: New Jersey: New Brunswick: Conviction In 2 Killings". The New York Times. July 12, 2005. Retrieved 20 August 2010. 
  19. David L. Smith. Amiri Baraka and the Black Arts of Black Art. boundary 2. Vol. 15, No. 1/2 (Autumn, 1986), pp. 235–254.
  20. Charles H. Rowell. An Interview With Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Callaloo. Vol. 14, No. 2 (Spring, 1991), pp. 444–463.
  21. 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.
  22. Liukkonen, Petri (2008). "Amiri Baraka". Authors' Calendar. Retrieved 2 December 2010. 
  23. Jerry Gafio Watts. Amiri Baraka: The Politics and Art of a Black Intellectual. NYU Press, 2001. pg 332.
  24. Erskine, Sophie (4 June 2009). "Art is a Weapon in the Struggle of Ideas: Interviewing Amiri Baraka". 3:AM Magazine. Retrieved 2 December 2010. 
  25. Amiri Baraka, online.
  26. Katherine Stevens, "Baraka refutes criticism. Controversial N.J. poet laureate denies accusations of racism", Yale Daily News (February 25, 2003)
  27. Jeremy Pearce, "When poetry seems to matter", The New York Times (February 9, 2003)
  28. Anti-Defamation League AMIRI BARAKA: IN HIS OWN WORDS
  29. Giambusso, David. "Amiri Baraka, former N.J. poet laureate and prolific author, dead at 79", The Star-Ledger, 9 January 2014. Retrieved 9 January 2014.
  30. Chawkins, Steve. "Amiri Baraka dies at 79; provocative poet lauded, chided for social passion", The Los Angeles Times, 9 January 2014. Retrieved 12 January 2014.
  31. Giambusso, David. "Amiri Baraka's funeral to be held at Newark Symphony Hall", The Star-Ledger, January 10, 2014. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  32. Via Associated Press. "Newark: Court Will Not Hear Poet’s Lawsuit", The New York Times, November 14, 2007. Accessed November 26, 2007.
  33. 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."
  34. Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  35. Amiri Baraka.
  36. Search results = au:Paul Vangelisti, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Apr. 4, 2015.
  37. Amiri Baraka b. 1934, Poetry Foundation, Web, Aug. 4, 2012.
  38. Searh results = au:Amiri Baraka + audiobook, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Mar. 29, 2018.

External linksEdit

Audio / video
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. (view article). (view authors).
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.