Jan 13 2014
Born Everett Leroi Jones, the poet who came to be known as Amiri Baraka, died last Thursday at the age of 79. He had been hospitalized in Newark, New Jersey where he lived.
Baraka was a literary giant whose poetry, prose, and drama influenced a generation. He was considered one of the most respected and influential figures in black arts and politics and briefly served as poet laureate for the state of New Jersey.
The most prominent works of his career include the 1963 work, Blues People: Negro Music in White America, the 1964 play, The Dutchman, and the 1995 poetry anthology, Transbluesency: The Selected Poems of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones. His entire body of work consisted of a dozen poetry anthologies, a dozen fiction and non-fiction works, and half a dozen plays.
He was a professor emeritus of African American studies at the State University of New York at Stony brook College, and won numerous prestigious awards including the American Book Award and the Langston Hughes Award.
In 2002 he became embroiled in a controversy over lines in his poem Somebody Below Up America which were widely viewed as Anti-Semitic, and over which he lost his position as poet laureate in New Jersey. Baraka was considered by many to be as polarizing as he was eloquent.
We’ll hear Amiri Baraka reading his poem Why’s Wise at the Village Gate in 1984.
GUEST: Nikki Giovanni, a literary giant in her own right, who like Baraka, has won numerous awards for her works of poetry and considered one of the most influential American poets today. She has written 30 books for both adults and children and is currently a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. Her latest book is called Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid.
Political prisoner and award winning journalist, Mumia Abu Jamal, filed a commentary about Amiri Baraka.