Funeral Held for Activist Poet-Writer Amiri Baraka

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  • NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A cacophony of bagpipes, African drums and jazz riffs creatively blended— much like the elements of an Amiri Baraka poem — at the Saturday funeral for the activist-writer and a founder of the Black Arts Movement, who died earlier this month.

    The service, held at Newark Symphony Hall, featured poetry, music and tributes to a man several speakers hailed as a creative and committed revolutionary who had a profound influence both on American culture and on a generation of artists and activists.

    The 79-year-old author died Jan. 9 in his native Newark of an undisclosed illness. Baraka wrote blues-based poetry, essays, plays, and books and operas — or “boperas” as he called them — mixing music, spoken word and rhythm in a signature style that many credit as an important precursor to hip-hop, rap and slam poetry. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1995.

    Several of the speakers at Saturday’s service read Baraka-style fist-shaking tone poems in tribute to a man, as poet Tony Medina described, who had “rolled a boulder uphill.”

    “Great spirits do not die, they are energy … agitating our bones to move,” Medina said, reading a poem he had written in tribute.

    Actor Danny Glover, who officiated at the service with producer-director Woodie King, recalled Baraka’s 1967 visit to San Francisco State University when Glover was a student. He said Baraka pushed him into acting, urging him to perform in a school production. He spoke of the profound influence Baraka had on the school founding the first Black Studies program in American higher education.

    Baraka also helped found the Black Arts Movement in 1965 and left a legacy of community activism in Newark and elsewhere.

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