Yesterday, on 9th January, Amiri Baraka passed away at the age of 79. He was an influential and highly controversial figure, who was at times associated with the Beat Generation and Black Arts movement.
In the 1950s Baraka went by the name LeRoi Jones and worked as a poet associated with the Beats. Living in Greenwich Village he was friends with Allen Ginsberg and gained fame for his poetry and jazz criticism.
Later he came to identify with Malcolm X’s black separatist movement and rejected links with the Beats and other predominantly white groups. He gained notoriety for passionate and often violent works of literature, such as the play “Arm Yourself or Harm Yourself,” as well as for his outspoken anti-white sentiment.
In recent years Baraka caused public outcry with his poem, “Somebody Blew Up America,” which was commonly derided as anti-Semitic, and led to him being forcibly removed from his position as poet laureate of New Jersey.
Still, like those other Beat poets whose work offended and ultimately changed the world around them, Amiri Baraka came to gain recognition for his work, and will continue to influence the culture for years to come.
Beatdom was fortunate to speak with Baraka in 2013. Read the interview here.