Thursday, April 24, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Activist poet-playwright Amiri Baraka dies at 79

Amiri Baraka, the militant man of letters and tireless agitator whose blues-based, fist-shaking poems, plays and criticism made him a provocative and groundbreaking force in American culture, has died. He was 79.

His booking agent, Celeste Bateman, told The Associated Press that Baraka, who had been hospitalized since last month, died Thursday at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.

Perhaps no writer of the 1960s and ’70s was more radical or polarizing than the former LeRoi Jones, and no one did more to extend the political debates of the civil rights era to the world of the arts. He inspired at least one generation of poets, playwrights and musicians, and his immersion in spoken word traditions and raw street language anticipated rap, hip-hop and slam poetry. The FBI feared him to the point of flattery, identifying Baraka as “the person who will probably emerge as the leader of the Pan-African movement in the United States.”

Baraka transformed from the rare black to join the Beat caravan of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac to leader of the Black Arts Movement, an ally of the Black Power movement that rejected the liberal optimism of the early ’60s and intensified a divide over how and whether the black artist should take on social issues. Scorning art for art’s sake and the pursuit of black-white unity, Barak was part of a philosophy that called for the teaching of black art and history and producing works that bluntly called for revolution.

“We want ‘poems that kill,’” Baraka wrote in his landmark “Black Art,” a manifesto published in 1965, the year he helped found the Black Arts Movement. “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.”

He was as eclectic as he was prolific: His influences ranged from Ray Bradbury and Mao Zedong to Ginsberg and John Coltrane. Baraka wrote poems, short stories, novels, essays, plays, musical and cultural criticism and jazz operas. His 1963 book “Blues People” has been called the first major history of black music to be written by an African-American. A line from his poem “Black People!” – “Up against the wall mother f—–” – became a counterculture slogan for everyone from student protesters to the rock band Jefferson Airplane. A 2002 poem he wrote alleging that some Israelis had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks led to widespread outrage.

He was denounced by critics as buffoonish, homophobic, anti-Semitic, a demagogue. He was called by others a genius, a prophet, the Malcolm X of literature. Eldridge Cleaver hailed him as the bard of the “funky facts.” Ishmael Reed credited the Black Arts Movement for encouraging artists of all backgrounds and enabling the rise of multiculturalism. The scholar Arnold Rampersad placed him alongside Frederick Douglass and Richard Wright in the pantheon of black cultural influences.

“From Amiri Baraka, I learned that all art is political, although I don’t write political plays,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist August Wilson once said.

First published in the 1950s, Baraka crashed the literary party in 1964, at the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village, when “Dutchman” opened and made instant history at the height of the civil rights movement. Baraka’s play was a one-act showdown between a middle class black man, Clay, and a sexually daring white woman, Lula, ending in a brawl of murderous taunts and confessions.

“Charlie Parker. All the hip white boys scream for Bird,” Clay says. “And they sit there talking about the tortured genius of Charlie Parker. Bird would’ve not played a note of music if he just walked up to East 67th Street and killed the first 10 white people he saw. Not a note!”

Baraka was still LeRoi Jones when he wrote “Dutchman.” But the Cuban revolution, the assassination in 1965 of Malcolm X and the Newark riots of 1967, when the poet was jailed and photographed looking dazed and bloodied, radicalized him. Jones left his white wife (Hettie Cohen), cut off his white friends and moved from Greenwich Village to Harlem. He renamed himself Imamu Ameer Baraka, “spiritual leader blessed prince,” and dismissed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a “brainwashed Negro.” He helped organize the 1972 National Black Political Convention and founded the Congress of African People. He also founded community groups in Harlem and Newark, the hometown to which he eventually returned.

The Black Arts Movement was essentially over by the mid-1970s, and Baraka distanced himself from some of his harsher comments – about Dr. King, about gays and about whites in general. But he kept making news. In the early 1990s, as Spike Lee was filming a biography of Malcolm X, Baraka ridiculed the director as “a petit bourgeois Negro” unworthy of his subject. In 2002, respected enough to be named New Jersey’s poet laureate, he shocked again with “Somebody Blew Up America,” a Sept. 11 poem with a jarring twist.

“Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed,” read a line from the poem. “Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers to stay home that day?”

Then-Gov. James E. McGreevey and others demanded his resignation. Baraka refused, denying that “Somebody Blew Up” was anti-Semitic (the poem also attacks Hitler and the Holocaust) and condemning the “dishonest, consciously distorted and insulting non-interpretation of my poem.” Discovering he couldn’t be fired, the state eliminated the position altogether, in 2003.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

 
Congressman talks Travis, water

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1, 4 Comments | Gallery

Travis lines up 2 days of aviation excellence

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A1, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Appreciate how good we have it now

By Angela Borchert | From Page: A2

 
 
Dixon May Fair has deals on advance tickets

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

 
Garamendi talks love, pro football and Peace Corps

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3, 4 Comments | Gallery

 
Author to sign books at Vacaville Museum

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

Kroc Center women schedule inaugural Taster Tea

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

 
Docents to lead paddling tour in marsh

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A4

Juneteenth committee extends vendors, exhibitors deadline

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

 
Congressional Art Competition is back

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Spilled tomato juice case set for trial

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A4, 5 Comments

Theme park welcomes seal pup

By Adrienne Harris | From Page: A4

 
 
Suisun City police log: April 22, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
Suisun City police log: April 21, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Fairfield police log: April 21, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
Weather for Thursday, April 24, 2014

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B12

Fairfield police log: April 22, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

Syrian activists accuse Assad of new gas attacks

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Murder charge for Vallejo man in head-on crash

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

California bill reignites affirmative action fight

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 3 Comments

 
Andy Lopez protest leads to school campus lockdown

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 3 Comments

Navy Cross bestowed on heroic Marine

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Airport official: Teen had no clue he was in Maui

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

US weighs clemency for inmates jailed for 10 years

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

 
Gun carry rights expanded in Ga. under new law

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6, 4 Comments

First lady announces one-stop job site for vets

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6, 2 Comments

 
Rail safety effort marred by squabbling

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

Small Wyoming town evacuated after gas explosion

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Bashtag: NYPD Twitter campaign backfires

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

Soldier convicted in WikiLeaks case gets new name

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Lawyer: US man held in Cuba seeks to go home soon

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10, 1 Comment

Captain who left doomed ferry had 40 years at sea

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Russian social media CEO quits, flees country

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Amid Russia warning, Ukraine is in a security bind

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10, 1 Comment

 
Palestinian rivals to try again for unity deal

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Camilla’s brother dies in US after head injury

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
State senators get ethics training after scandals

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12, 7 Comments

.

Opinion

Question of the week: Will Flight 370 be found?

By Daily Republic | From Page: A11

 
Be the first and give specifics

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 2 Comments

What we can do about crime

By Kelvin Wade | From Page: A11, 14 Comments

 
Castro at odds with mentor on deportations

By Ruben Navarrette | From Page: A11

Some Earth Day boos and cheers

By Jay Ambrose | From Page: A11

 
.

Living

Today in History for April 24, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: April 24, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

When Joe’s mad at me, he also ignores my 7-year-old son

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A9

 
Horoscopes for April 24, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

.

Entertainment

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Jodie Foster weds artist Alexandra Hedison

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Singer Chris Brown’s DC trial delayed for months

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Performing dogs go big after $1 million TV prize

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Amazon snares classic shows in deal with HBO

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
.

Sports

Mustangs swim to sweep of Indians

By Marcus Lomtong | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Warriors, Clippers to meet in Oakland for Game 3

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Sharks confident with chance to sweep LA Kings

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Girls soccer update: Armijo, Vanden on way to playoffs

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1 | Gallery

A’s reject 10-year Coliseum lease offer

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Prep softball: Vanden rolls to 14-0 win over Fairfield

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B2

 
Prep badminton: Unbeaten Mustangs cruise past Crushers

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B2

Prep boys golf: Vikings suffer SCAC loss to Panthers

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B2

 
Sanchez’s slam in 11th helps Giants beat Rox 12-10

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Prep track: Armijo girls get win in MEL 4-way meet

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B2

 
Perez helps Rangers sweep A’s with 3-0 win

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Party a century in the making for Wrigley Field

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Emmert supports more efficient, effective NCAA

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Phelps having fun in his return to swimming

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

 
Suns’ Dragic honored as NBA’s Most Improved Player

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Seahawks to open NFL season vs. Packers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Oldest living ex-MLB player dies in Cuba at 102

By The Associated Press | From Page: B12

 
.

Business

Wellness programs grow more popular with employers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

 
Sales of new US homes plunge 14.5 percent in March

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

Buffett disapproves of Coca-Cola’s pay plan

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
Amazon snares classic shows in deal with HBO

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

US stocks edge lower after a six-day rise

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
Facebook 1Q results soar; CFO to step down

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

Apple increases stock buyback, will split stock

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6, 1 Comment

 
.

Obituaries

Phyllis J. Miller

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Dondi Martin

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Wizard Of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9