Poet Amiri Baraka Is Dead at 79

Amiri Baraka, the poet and playwright who was one of the central voices in the Black Power movement, died Thursday at age 79

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Amiri Baraka
AP

Amiri Baraka in New York City on June 30, 1964.

Amiri Baraka, the poet and playwright who was one of the central voices in the Black Power movement, died Thursday at age 79.

Baraka, who once went by the moniker Leroi Jones, was also the Poet Laureate of New Jersey from 2002-2003, the Star Ledger reports. 

Baraka was known for his social criticism, and used his plays and poetry to confront Americans with the plight of black Americans in the 50s and 60s. He rubbed shoulders with beat poets Allan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac in the Greenwich Village avant-garde movement before moving to Harlem in the 1960s, where he became a Black Nationalist. His most famous play, Dutchman, about a white woman and a black man who vent their hatred on the New York subway, was produced off-Broadway in 1964. He later distanced himself from Black Nationalism and became a Marxist in the 1970s.

Baraka was also instrumental in founding the Black Arts Movement, which encouraged black artists to reject “white” standards of beauty and seek validation within their own culture.

He famously wrote the controversial poem “Somebody Blew Up America” about September 11th, which elicited such a public outcry that New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey tried to remove him as state Poet Laureate. When he realized that there was no such provision to do so, the governor abolished the position.

[The Star Ledger]

[The Poetry Foundation]

1 comments
TheSanityInspector
TheSanityInspector

It was rather hypocritical for the state's poet laureate people to get all offended after his reaction to 9/11. What did they think they were getting when they awarded the post to him? 

But as with so many other Sixties radicals who went on to live off of comfortable establishment sinecures, he was well summed up in V. S. Naipaul's observation about the U.S.:

<i>Always out there, the United States, an unacknowledged part of the world picture of every kind of modern revolutionary: the country of law and rest, with which at the end of the day a man who had proclaimed himself to be on the other side–in politics, culture, or religion–could make peace and on whose goodwill he could throw himself. –V.S. Naipaul, Beyond Belief, 1998</i>