Baraka, Amiri (amērē bəräˈkə) [key], 1934–, American poet, playwright, and political activist, b. Newark, N.J., as LeRoi Jones, studied at Rutgers Univ., Howard Univ. (B.A., 1954). He gained notoriety in 1964 when four of his plays— Dutchman, The Toilet, The Baptism, and The Slave —were produced Off-Broadway in New York City. A provocative political analyst, he has written many works that express a strident anger toward the racism of mainstream white American society. His volumes of poems include Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note (1961), Selected Poetry (1979), Transbluesency: The Selected Poems of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones, 1961–1995 (1995), and Eulogies (1996); among his many plays are The Motion of History and Other Plays (1978) and Election-Machine Warehouse (1996); his volumes of essays include Blues People: Negro Music in White America (1963, repr. 1980) and Daggers and Javelins (1984). With his second wife, Amina Baraka, he edited Confirmation: An Anthology of African-American Women (1983). His collected fiction was published in 2000.
Baraka has been intensely involved with the African-American community. He founded Harlem's Black Arts Repertory Theatre in 1965, three years later establishing the Black Community Development and Defense Organization, and starting the Black National Political Convention in 1972. He has also taught at a number of colleges and universities. In 2002 Baraka was named New Jersey's third poet laureate. However, one of his poems suggested Israel had foreknowledge of the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and led to furious controversy in the state. Demands for Baraka's resignation failed, as did attempts to fire him, but in 2003 the state legislature removed him by eliminating the poet laureate post.
See his memoirs, The Autobiography of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (1984, rev. ed. 1997); C. Reilly, ed., Conversations with Amiri Baraka (1994); studies by T. R. Hudson (1973), W. Sollors (1978), W. J. Harris (1987), K. Woodard (1999), and J. G. Watts (2001).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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