The late Amiri Baraka was a poet, activist, playwright and educator whose poetry and writings gained him fame and criticism. The Newark, N.J. native was born October 7, 1934.
Born Everett LeRoi Jones, Baraka graduated from Howard University and entered the Air Force in 1954, serving three years before being honorably discharged. He moved to New York where he became a part of the Beat poetry scene alongside his wife, Jewish writer Hettie Cohen. Together, the pair edited a progressive publication, “Yugen” and opened a publishing house for other like-minded writers.
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As the racial climate of the ‘60s heated up, so did Baraka’s politics. His controversial off-Broadway play “Dutchman” won an Obie Award for Best Off-Broadway Play” and was later turned into a film. However, the assassination of Malcolm X shifted Baraka, the known as LeRoi Jones, away from the Bohemian scene and into Black radicalism.
After converting to Islam and changing his name, Baraka was a key member of the Black Arts Movement. He was also the secretary-general of the National Black Political Assembly and chairman for the Congress of African People. In 1972, he helped organize the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Ind.
As an author, Baraka published over two dozen books of poetry and non-fiction. He also worked as an actor in the 1998 film “Bulworth” starring Warren Beatty. As an educator, Baraka worked as a lecturer and guest professor at Columbia University and Yale University. In 1979 he joined the faculty of State University of New York at Stony Brook where at the time of his 2014 passing he was the Emeritus Professor of Africana Studies.
HIs son, Ras Baraka, with his second wife, Amina, is the current mayor of Newark, New Jersey.
AmiriBaraka passed on January 9, 2014. He was 79. A posthumous collection of Baraka’s works, “S.O.S. Poems 1961-2013” featured unpublished poems and was released in 2015.