Home Arts & Culture Amiri Baraka dies in New Jersey hospital at 79

Amiri Baraka dies in New Jersey hospital at 79

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Poet Amiri Baraka died in New Jersey on Thursday at the age of 79.

Amiri Baraka died in hospital – where he had been since last month – surrounded by his family.

He was initially associated with Beat generation poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. He published his first poetry collection in 1961.

Amiri Baraka later became an advocate of a militant black separatist movement. In 1964, he garnered global attention for his explosive play Dutchman.

The New York Times, in a 2007 review of a new production of the play, called it the “singular cultural emblem” of the black separatist movement in the United States.

Amiri Baraka wrote prolifically, including poems, short stories, novels, essays, plays and jazz operas.

Among his better-known works are the non-fiction book Blues People: Negro Music in White America and the poetry collection The Dead Lecturer.

The poet was born Everett LeRoi Jones, but following a radicalizing trip to Cuba in 1960, he later adopted the name Amiri Baraka.


Amiri Baraka wrote prolifically, including poems, short stories, novels, essays, plays and jazz operas

Amiri Baraka wrote prolifically, including poems, short stories, novels, essays, plays and jazz operas

After the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X, Amiri Baraka played a principal role in the creation of the Black Arts Movement, as the head of a theatre and school in Harlem.

He also divorced his wife, writer Hettie Cohen, with whom he had founded the literary magazine Yugen.

Among his accolades were the Rockefeller Foundation Award for Drama and a poetry award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

In later years, Amiri Baraka moderated his views on black nationalism, and became an avowed Marxist.

In 2002, as poet laureate of New Jersey, Amiri Baraka drew accusations of anti-Semitism over his poem Somebody Blew Up America, which referenced the September 11 2001 attacks.

Amiri Baraka refused then-New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey’s request for him to resign and, in response, a state law was passed eliminating the position of poet laureate.

Latterly, he taught at Yale and George Washington University, and spent 20 years teaching at the State University of New York.

Amiri Baraka is survived by his second wife Amina – whom he married in 1966 – and several children.

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