With practically no fanfare from the standard press, Amiri Baraka (famously, formally known as LeRoi Jones) the poet, playwright and political organizer died last Thursday at the age of 79. He lived in Newark, New Jersey. Baraka was a leading force in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1963 he published “Blues People: Negro Music in White America,” known as the first major history of black music to be written by an African American. A year later he published a collection of poetry titled “The Dead Lecturer” and won an Obie Award for his play, “Dutchman.”
He was named Poet Laureate of New Jersey from 2002 to 2004 by the New Jersey Commission on Humanities. His most recent book, “Tales of the Out & the Gone” (Akashic Books, 2007), was a New York Times Editors’ Choice and winner of a PEN/Beyond Margins Award.
After the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, he moved to Harlem and founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre. In the late 1960s, Baraka moved back to his hometown of Newark and began focusing more on political organizing, prompting the FBI to identify him as “the person who will probably emerge as the leader of the pan-African movement in the United States.”
Baraka continued writing and performing poetry up until his hospitalization late last year, leaving behind a body of work that greatly influenced a younger generation of hip-hop artists and slam poets.
He is survived by his wife Amina Baraka and his 10 children.
Amiri Baraka in Season 1 Episode 4 of Def Poetry Jam, 2002
I wonna say “R.I.P.”, but I know he won’t be able to.