Amiri Baraka

Poet / Playwright / Author / Activist

Courtesy New Federal Theater (NYC)

Poet/Author/Playwright/Activist Amiri Baraka made his transition on Thursday, January 9, 2014. Mr. Baraka would have been 80 years old on October 7, 2014.

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Amiri Baraka was born Everett LeRoi Jones in 1934 in Newark, NJ. After leaving Howard University and the Air Force, he moved to the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1957 and co-edited the avant-garde literary magazine Yugen and founded Totem Press, which first published works by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and others.

His reputation as a playwright was established with the production of Dutchman at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York on March 24, 1964. The controversial play subsequently won an Obie Award (for “Best off-Broadway play”) and was made into a film. (The play was revived by the Cherry Lane Theatre in January 2007 and has been reproduced around the world).

In 1965, Jones moved to Harlem, where he founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School. The BARTS lasted only one year but had a lasting influence on the direction of Afro American Arts.

He and his wife, Amina Baraka, edited The Music (Meditations of Jazz & Blues (Morrow) Confirmation: An Anthology of African-American Women, which won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka was published in 1984. Other noted publications are Y’s/Why’s/Wise (3rd World 1992) Funk Lore (Littoral 1993), Eulogies (Marsilio, 94), Transbluesency, (Marsilio 1996), Somebody Blew Up America & Other Poems (Nehesi 2002).

Amiri Baraka’s numerous literary honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and Baraka (photo by Z. Risasi Dais)the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Rockefeller Foundation Award for Drama, the Langston Hughes Award from The City College of New York, and a lifetime achievement award from the Before Columbus Foundation. In 1994, he retired as Professor of Africana Studies at the State University of New York in Stony Brook. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1995. In 2002, Baraka was named Poet Laureate of New Jersey and Newark Public Schools. His book of short stories, Tales of the Out & The Gone (Akashic Books) was published in late 2007.  Home, his book of social essays, was re-released by Akashic Books in early 2009. Digging: The Afro American Soul of Music (Univ. of California) was also released in 2009.

The Before Columbus Foundation selected Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music by Amiri Baraka as a winner of the 31st annual American Book Awards for 2010. In 2012, Baraka received the Jazz Journalists Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. His last play about W.E.B. DuBois, The Most Dangerous Man in America was produced by Woodie King, Jr. in New York City in 2015.