Poet and political activist Amiri Baraka dies at 79

By Kyle Johnson,

Amiri Baraka, an activist poet and playwright, passed away at the age of 79 on Thursday at the Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.

His death was confirmed with Celeste Bateman, his booking agent, reports The Associated Press. He had been in the hospital since December.

Baraka, formerly LeRoi Jones, was part of the Allen Ginsberg and the Beat scene during the 1960s and '70s. His poetry was known to be quite polarizing and radical, focusing on civil rights. He used slam poetry, hip-hop and spoken word for his poems. The FBI said of him then that he was "the person who will probably emerge as the leader of the Pan-African movement in the United States."

Baraka founded the Black Arts Movement, a more poetic version of the Black Panthers, back in 1965 and wrote the poem "Black Art." "Assassin poems. Poems that shoot guns/Poems that wrestle cops into alleys/and take their weapons leaving them dead/with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland."

According to Los Angeles Times, Baraka went to New York University and Howard University before attending Columbia University for graduate school.

He founded the magazine Yugen, which would publish plenty of works from other Beat poets, such as Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.
He ended up changing his name to Baraka following Malcolm X's assassination in 1965.

In a 2007 NPR interview Baraka said he saw himself as "a poet and a political activist most consistently. I've written in all genres. ...But, you know, I guess throughout all of that, the poetry is at the base of it."

image: Wikimedia Commons



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