Saturday, January 11, 2014



The death of Amiri Baraka (1934-2014) at the age of 79 on January 9, 2014 in his beloved Newark, New Jersey marks the passing of one of the greatest and most important American writers and thinkers of the past century and in my view the preeminent African American writer of his generation as well as the most consistently profound, innovative, and creatively influential of the entire post 1945 era.  A charter member of an extraordinary generation of U.S. writers who were born between 1920-1940 (an innovative, dynamic, visionary, fiercely independent, highly contentious,  and even openly raucous group that includes such pivotal post WW2 literary/cultural figures as James Baldwin, John A. Williams, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, Thomas Pynchon, Ishmael Reed, Truman Capote, Toni Cade Bambara, Larry Neal, Diane DiPrima, Charles Stevenson Wright, Al Young, Joan Didion, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O'Hara, Bob Kaufman, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, Robert Creeley, Susan Sontag, Edward Albee, Sonia Sanchez, Audre Lorde, Ed Bullins, Adrienne Kennedy, Jayne Cortez, Adrienne Rich, and Clarence Major), Baraka (formerly known as Leroi Jones until 1968) was a truly revolutionary artist in every sense of the word.  Blazing a fifty year trail of innovative literary triumphs in poetry, drama, fiction, music criticism and history, cultural and political essays, and social criticism that began formally with the publication of his first book of poetry Preface to A 20 Volume Suicide Note in 1961 Baraka was a also a consummate political organizer and activist who had a seminal impact on two generations of African American activists in a wide myriad of radical political movements that formally began in 1964 and lasted until his death.  It is impossible in this limited space to properly comment on and explain just how protean and fundamentally groundbreaking so many of Amiri's stunning achievements in literature and cultural/social activism were or fairly assess the immense and invaluable intellectual and creative legacy he has left us all. As someone who was personally fortunate to have known and on a number of occasions worked with this  figure in our contemporary art and politics for many years I was a personal witness to the  kindness, generosity, warmth, humor (Amiri was a very funny individual), honesty, wicked sophisticated wit, and deep sincerity that Baraka so often embodied. It should also be noted that unlike far too many other intellectuals in general Baraka was also one of the very best DANCERS that I ever saw.  To say that I and many, many other people throughout not only this country but the world (Amiri was a longtime and very enthusiastic global traveler) will miss this literary and cultural GIANT is a massive understament. Amiri was simply one of the those individuals whose extraordinary work and loving humanity constituted and represented the very best in the inspirational history of the powerful African American cultural, aesthetic, and political tradition(s) that informed everything that Baraka did and tried to  do in a nearly six decade career.  May Amiri rest in eternal peace and may his ongoing legacies continue to inspire, guide, and motivate us to fight for freedom, justice, and self determination in the arts, in our politics, and most importantly in our lives.  As Baraka always taught and reminded us:  A Luta Continua  (The Struggle Continues)...What follows is an extensive textual and visual tribute to Baraka's art and life from many different archival sources, including from his own great body of work.  Enjoy and spread the word...

Love and Struggle,


(b. October 7, 1934--d. January 9, 2014)

1. “A man is either free, or he is not. There cannot be an apprenticeship for freedom.”

—Home: Social Essays, 1966

2. “Art is a weapon in the struggle of ideas, the class struggle.”

—Interview with 3:AM Magazine, 2009

3. “There is no justice in America, but it is the fight for justice that sustains you.”

—Home: Social Essays, 1966

4. “Art is whatever makes you proud to be human.”
—The Kindly Ones

5. “God has been replaced, as he has all over the West, with respectability and air conditioning.”

—Home: Social Essays, 1966

6. “Warriors are poets and poems and all the loveliness here in the worlds.”

—Black Art

7. “Since the rich eat more/ than anybody else/ It is reasonable to assume/ that they are more full of shit.”

—Class Gas

8. “Thought is more important than art. To revere art and have no understanding of the process that forces it into existence, is finally not even to understand what art is.”

—Home: Social Essays, 1966

9. “There is no depth to education without art.”

—Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music, 2009

10. “If the flag of an armed enemy of the U.S. {the confederacy} is allowed to fly over government buildings, then it implies that slavery, or at least the threat of slavery, is sanctioned by that government and can still legally exist.”

11. “Poetry is music, and nothing but music. Words with musical emphasis.”


12. “The attempt to divide art and politics is a bourgeois which says good poetry, art, cannot be political, but since everything is … political, even an artist or work that claims not to have any politics is making a political statement by that act.”

—Interview with Aaron Winslow via The Argotist Online


(Originally posted on October 7, 2009):
from the Academy of American Poets
Amiri Baraka was born Everett LeRoy Jones in Newark, New Jersey, on October 7, 1934. His father, Colt LeRoy Jones, was a postal supervisor; Anna Lois Jones, his mother, was a social worker. He attended Rutgers University for two years, then transferred to Howard University. He served in the Air Force from 1954 until 1957, then moved to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There he joined a loose circle of Greenwich Village artists, musicians, and writers. The following year he married Hettie Cohen and began co-editing the avant-garde literary magazine Yugen with her. That year he also founded Totem Press, which first published works by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and others.

He published his first volume of poetry, Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note, in 1961. From 1961 to 1963 he was co-editor, with Diane Di Prima, of The Floating Bear, a literary newsletter. His increasing hostility toward and mistrust of white society was reflected in two plays, The Slave and The Toilet, both written in 1962. 1963 saw the publication of Blues People: Negro Music in White America, which he wrote, and The Moderns: An Anthology of New Writing in America, which he edited and introduced. His reputation as a playwright was established with the production of Dutchman at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York on March 24, 1964. The controversial play subsequently won an Obie Award (for "best off-Broadway play") and was made into a film.

In 1965, following the assassination of Malcolm X, Jones repudiated his former life and ended his marriage. He moved to Harlem, where he founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School. The company, which produced plays that were often anti-white and intended for a black audience, dissolved in a few months. He moved back to Newark, and in 1967 he married African-American poet Sylvia Robinson (now known as Amina Baraka). That year he also founded the Spirit House Players, which produced, among other works, two of Baraka's plays against police brutality: Police and Arm Yrself or Harm Yrself.

In 1968, he co-edited Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing with Larry Neal and his play Home on the Range was performed as a benefit for the Black Panther party. That same year he became a Muslim, changing his name to Imamu Amiri Baraka. ("Imamu" means "spiritual leader.") He assumed leadership of his own black Muslim organization, Kawaida. From 1968 to 1975, Baraka was chairman of the Committee for Unified Newark, a black united front organization. In 1969 , his play Great Goodness of Life became part of the successful "Black Quartet" off-Broadway, and his epic historical play Slave Ship was widely reviewed. Baraka was a founder and chairman of the Congress of African People, a national Pan-Africanist organization with chapters in 15 cities, and he was one of the chief organizers of the National Black Political Convention, which convened in Gary, Indiana, in 1972 to organize a more unified political stance for African-Americans.

In 1974 Baraka adopted a Marxist Leninist philosophy and dropped the spiritual title "Imamu." In 1983, he and Amina Baraka edited Confirmation: An Anthology of African-American Women, which won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, and in 1987 they published The Music: Reflections on Jazz and Blues. The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka was published in 1984.

Amiri Baraka's numerous literary prizes and honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Rockefeller Foundation Award for Drama, the Langston Hughes Award from The City College of New York, and a lifetime achievement award from the Before Columbus Foundation. He has taught poetry at the New School for Social Research in New York, literature at the University of Buffalo, and drama at Columbia University. He has also taught at San Francisco State University, Yale University and George Washington University. Since 1985 he has been a professor of Africana Studies at the State University of New York in Stony Brook. He is co-director, with his wife, of Kimako's Blues People, a community arts space. Amiri and Amina Baraka live in Newark, New Jersey.

Amiri Baraka: Selected Poems

Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note
(For Kellie Jones born 16 May 1959)

Lately, I've become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus...

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars.
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night I tiptoed up
To my daughter's room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there...
Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands

In Memory of Radio

Who has ever stopped to think of the divinity of Lamont Cranston?
(Only jack Kerouac, that I know of: & me.
The rest of you probably had on WCBS and Kate Smith,
Or something equally unattractive.)

What can I say?
It is better to haved loved and lost
Than to put linoleum in your living rooms?

Am I a sage or something?
Mandrake's hypnotic gesture of the week?
(Remember, I do not have the healing powers of Oral Roberts...
I cannot, like F. J. Sheen, tell you how to get saved & rich!
I cannot even order you to the gaschamber satori like Hitler or Goddy Knight)

; love is an evil word.
Turn it backwards/see, see what I mean?
An evol word. & besides
who understands it?
I certainly wouldn't like to go out on that kind of limb.

Saturday mornings we listened to the Red Lantern & his undersea folk.
At 11, Let's Pretend
& we did
& I, the poet, still do. Thank God!

What was it he used to say (after the transformation when he was safe
& invisible & the unbelievers couldn't throw stones?) "Heh, heh, heh.
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows."

O, yes he does
O, yes he does
An evil word it is,
This Love.

Notes For a Speech

African blues
does not know me. Their steps, in sands
of their own
land. A country
in black & white, newspapers
blown down pavements
of the world. Does
not feel
what I am.


in the dream, an oblique
suckling of nerve, the wind
throws up sand, eyes
are something locked in
hate, of hate, of hate, to
walk abroad, they conduct
their deaths apart
from my own. Those
heads, I call
my "people."

(And who are they. People. To concern

myself, ugly man. Who
you, to concern
the white flat stomachs
of maidens, inside houses
dying. Black. Peeled moon
light on my fingers
move under
her clothes. Where
is her husband. Black
words throw up sand
to eyes, fingers of
their private dead. Whose
soul, eyes, in sand. My color
is not theirs. Lighter, white man
talk. They shy away. My own
dead souls, my, so called
people. Africa
is a foreign place. You are
as any other sad man here


"A closed window looks down
on a dirty courtyard, and Black people
call across or scream across or walk across
defying physics in the stream of their will.

Our world is full of sound
Our world is more lovely than anyone's
tho we suffer, and kill each other
and sometimes fail to walk the air.

We are beautiful people
With African imaginations
full of masks and dances and swelling chants
with African eyes, and noses, and arms
tho we sprawl in gray chains in a place
full of winters, when what we want is sun.

We have been captured,
and we labor to make our getaway, into
the ancient image; into a new

Correspondence with ourselves
and our Black family. We need magic
now we need the spells, to raise up
return, destroy,and create. What will be

the sacred word?

Monday in B-Flat

I can pray
all day and 

won't come.

But if I call
The Devil
Be here

in a minute!

Wise I

WHYS (Nobody Knows
The Trouble I Seen)

If you ever find
yourself, some where
lost and surrounded
by enemies
who won't let you
speak in your own language
who destroy your statues and instruments, 

who ban
your omm bomm ba boom
then you are in trouble
deep trouble
they ban your
own boom ba boom
you in deep deep


probably take you several hundred years
to get



(All thinking people
oppose terrorism
both domestic
& international…
But one should not
be used
To cover the other)

They say its some terrorist, some
A Rab, in
It wasn't our American terrorists
It wasn't the Klan or the Skin heads
Or the them that blows up nigger
Churches, or reincarnates us on Death Row
It wasn't Trent Lott
Or David Duke or Giuliani
Or Schundler, Helms retiring

It wasn't
the gonorrhea in costume
the white sheet diseases
That have murdered black people
Terrorized reason and sanity
Most of humanity, as they pleases

They say (who say? Who do the saying
Who is them paying
Who tell the lies
Who in disguise
Who had the slaves
Who got the bux out the Bucks

Who got fat from plantations
Who genocided Indians
Tried to waste the Black nation

Who live on Wall Street
The first plantation
Who cut your nuts off
Who rape your ma
Who lynched your pa

Who got the tar, who got the feathers
Who had the match, who set the fires
Who killed and hired
Who say they God & still be the Devil

Who the biggest only
Who the most goodest
Who do Jesus resemble

Who created everything
Who the smartest
Who the greatest
Who the richest
Who say you ugly and they the goodlookingest

Who define art
Who define science

Who made the bombs
Who made the guns

Who bought the slaves, who sold them

Who called you them names
Who say Dahmer wasn't insane

Who/ Who / Who/

Who stole Puerto Rico
Who stole the Indies, the Philipines, Manhattan
Australia & The Hebrides
Who forced opium on the Chinese

Who own them buildings
Who got the money
Who think you funny
Who locked you up
Who own the papers

Who owned the slave ship
Who run the army

Who the fake president
Who the ruler
Who the banker

Who/ Who/ Who/

Who own the mine
Who twist your mind
Who got bread
Who need peace
Who you think need war

Who own the oil
Who do no toil
Who own the soil
Who is not a nigger
Who is so great ain't nobody bigger

Who own this city

Who own the air
Who own the water

Who own your crib
Who rob and steal and cheat and murder
and make lies the truth
Who call you uncouth

Who live in the biggest house
Who do the biggest crime
Who go on vacation anytime

Who killed the most niggers
Who killed the most Jews
Who killed the most Italians
Who killed the most Irish
Who killed the most Africans
Who killed the most Japanese
Who killed the most Latinos


Who own the ocean

Who own the airplanes
Who own the malls
Who own television
Who own radio

Who own what ain't even known to be owned
Who own the owners that ain't the real owners

Who own the suburbs
Who suck the cities
Who make the laws

Who made Bush president
Who believe the confederate flag need to be flying
Who talk about democracy and be lying

Who the Beast in Revelations
Who 666
Who decide
Jesus get crucified

Who the Devil on the real side
Who got rich from Armenian genocide

Who the biggest terrorist
Who change the bible
Who killed the most people
Who do the most evil
Who don't worry about survival

Who have the colonies
Who stole the most land
Who rule the world
Who say they good but only do evil
Who the biggest executioner

Who/Who/Who ^^^

Who own the oil
Who want more oil
Who told you what you think that later you find out a lie
Who/ Who/ ???

Who fount Bin Laden, maybe they Satan
Who pay the CIA,
Who knew the bomb was gonna blow
Who know why the terrorists
Learned to fly in Florida, San Diego

Who know why Five Israelis was filming the explosion
And cracking they sides at the notion

Who need fossil fuel when the sun ain't goin' nowhere

Who make the credit cards
Who get the biggest tax cut
Who walked out of the Conference
Against Racism
Who killed Malcolm, Kennedy & his Brother
Who killed Dr King, Who would want such a thing?
Are they linked to the murder of Lincoln?

Who invaded Grenada
Who made money from apartheid
Who keep the Irish a colony
Who overthrow Chile and Nicaragua later

Who killed David Sibeko, Chris Hani,
the same ones who killed Biko, Cabral,
Neruda, Allende, Che Guevara, Sandino,

Who killed Kabila, the ones who wasted Lumumba, Mondlane , Betty Shabazz, Princess Margaret, Ralph Featherstone, Little Bobby

Who locked up Mandela, Dhoruba, Geronimo,
Assata, Mumia,Garvey, Dashiell Hammett, Alphaeus Hutton

Who killed Huey Newton, Fred Hampton,
MedgarEvers, Mikey Smith, Walter Rodney,
Was it the ones who tried to poison Fidel
Who tried to keep the Vietnamese Oppressed

Who put a price on Lenin's head

Who put the Jews in ovens,
and who helped them do it
Who said "America First"
and ok'd the yellow stars

Who killed Rosa Luxembourg, Liebneckt
Who murdered the Rosenbergs
And all the good people iced,
tortured , assassinated, vanished

Who got rich from Algeria, Libya, Haiti,
Iran, Iraq, Saudi, Kuwait, Lebanon,
Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine,

Who cut off peoples hands in the Congo
Who invented Aids Who put the germs
In the Indians' blankets
Who thought up "The Trail of Tears"

Who blew up the Maine
& started the Spanish American War
Who got Sharon back in Power
Who backed Batista, Hitler, Bilbo,
Chiang kai Chek who WHO W H O/

Who decided Affirmative Action had to go
Reconstruction, The New Deal, The New
Frontier, The Great Society,

Who do Tom Ass Clarence Work for
Who doo doo come out the Colon's mouth
Who know what kind of Skeeza is a Condoleeza
Who pay Connelly to be a wooden negro
Who give Genius Awards to Homo Locus

Who overthrew Nkrumah, Bishop,
Who poison Robeson,
who try to put DuBois in Jail
Who frame Rap Jamil al Amin, Who frame the Rosenbergs, Garvey,
The Scottsboro Boys, The Hollywood Ten

Who set the Reichstag Fire

Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed
Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers
To stay home that day
Why did Sharon stay away ?
Who,Who, Who/
explosion of Owl the newspaper say
the devil face cd be seen Who WHO Who WHO

Who make money from war
Who make dough from fear and lies
Who want the world like it is
Who want the world to be ruled by imperialism and national oppression and terror
violence, and hunger and poverty.

Who is the ruler of Hell?
Who is the most powerful

Who you know ever
Seen God?

But everybody seen
The Devil

Like an Owl exploding
In your life in your brain in your self
Like an Owl who know the devil
All night, all day if you listen, Like an Owl
Exploding in fire. We hear the questions rise
In terrible flame like the whistle of a crazy dog

Like the acid vomit of the fire of Hell
Who and Who and WHO (+) who who ^
Whoooo and Whooooooooooooooooooooo!

AMIRI B 10/01

In the Funk World

If Elvis Presley/ is
Who is James Brown,


I wanted to know my mother when she sat

looking sad across the campus in the late 20's

into the future of the soul, there were black angels

straining above her head, carrying life from our ancesters,

and knowledge, and the strong nigger feeling. She sat

(in that photo in the yearbook I showed Vashti) getting into

new blues, from the old ones, the trips and passions

showered on her by her own. Hypnotizing me, from so far

ago, from that vantage of knowledge passed on to her

passed on to me and all the other black people of our time.

When I die, the consciousness I carry I will to

black people. May they pick me apart and take the

useful parts, the sweet meat of my feelings. And leave

the bitter bullshit rotten white parts


Works by Amiri Baraka: A Selected Bibliography


Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, poems, 1961
Blues People: Negro Music in White America, 1963
The Moderns: An Anthology of New Writing in America, 1963 (editor)
Dutchman and The Slave, drama, 1964
The System of Dante's Hell, novel, 1965
Home: Social Essays, 1965
A Black Mass, drama 1966
Tales, short stories 1967
The Baptism and The Toilet, drama, 1967
Black Magic, poems, 1969
Four Black Revolutionary Plays, 1969
In Our Terribleness, essays, 1970
Slave Ship, drama 1970
It's Nation Time, poems, 1970
Jello, play, 1970
Raise Race Rays Raze: Essays Since 1965, 1971
Spirit Reach, poems, 1972
African Congress: A Documentary of the first Modern Pan-African Congress (editor), 1972
Hard Facts, poems, 1975
The Motion of History and Other Plays, 1978
The Sidney Poet Heroical, drama, 1979
Poetry for the Advanced, 1979
reggae or not!, 1981
Daggers and Javelins: Essays 1974-1979, 1984
The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, 1984; revised 2nd edition 1997
The Music: Reflections on Jazz and Blues, 1987
Transbluesency: The Selected Poems of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones, 1961- 1995
Wise, Why’s, Y’s, poems, 1995
Funk Lore: New Poems, 1996.
Somebody Blew Up America, poem 2001
The Book of Monk, poems 2005
Tales of the Out & the Gone, 2006
Billy Harper: Blueprints of Jazz, Volume 2, Audio CD, essay, 2008
Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music, essays, 2009
The Moderns: An Anthology of New Writing in America, 1963 (editor)
Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing, 1968 (editor with Larry Neal)
Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women, 1983 (editor with Amina Baraka)
Film Appearances
Motherland (film) (2009)
Ferlinghetti: A City Light (2008) .... Himself
The Black Candle (2008)
Corso: The Last Beat (2008)
Oscene (2007) .... Himself
Turn Me On (2007) (TV) .... Himself
Revolution '67 (2007) .... Himself
Polis Is This: Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place (2007)
Retour à Gorée (2007) .... Himself
The Pact (2006) .... Himself
The Ballad of Greenwich Village (2005) .... Himself
500 Years Later (2005) (voice) .... Himself
Hubert Selby Jr: It/ll Be Better Tomorrow (2005) .... Himself
Keeping Time: The Life, Music & Photography of Milt Hinton (2004) .... Himself
Chisholm '72: Unbought & Unbossed (2004) .... Himself
Ralph Ellison: An American Journey (2002) .... Himself
Strange Fruit (2002) .... Himself
Piñero (2001) .... Himself
Bulworth (1998) .... Rastaman
Furious Flower: A Video Anthology of African American Poetry 1960-95, Volume II: Warriors (1998) .... Himself
Black Theatre: The Making of a Movement (1978) .... Himself
Fried Shoes Cooked Diamonds (1978) .... Himself
One P.M. (1972)

Selected Bibliography 1980-Present (Books on the work of Amiri Baraka)
Broderick, James F. Paging New Jersey: A Literary Guide to the Garden State. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2003.

Brown, Lloyd W. Amiri Baraka. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980. PS3552.A583 Z57

Campbell, James. Syncopations: Beats, New Yorkers, and Writers in the Dark. Berkeley: U of California P, 2008.

Elam, Harry J., Jr. Taking It to the Streets: The Social Protest Theater of Luis Valdez and Amiri Baraka. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1997.

Grandt, Jürgen E. Kinds of Blue: The Jazz Aesthetic in African American Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2004.

Johnson, Cedric. Revolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2007.

Joyce, Joyce A. Black Studies as Human Studies: Critical Essays and Interviews. Albany: State U of New York P, 2005.

Lacey, Henry C. To raise, destroy, and create: the poetry, drama, and fiction of Imamu Amiri Baraka (Le Roi Jones). Troy, NY: Whitston Pub. Co., 1988 PS3552 .A583 Z75

Reilly, Charlie. ed. Conversations with Amiri Baraka. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1994.

Watts, Jerry G. Amiri Baraka: The Politics and Art of a Black Intellectual. NY: New York UP, 2001.

(Originally posted on October 7, 2009):

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Tribute to the Life and Work of Amiri Baraka on his 75th Birthday


"Thought is more important than art. To revere art and have no understanding of the process that forces it into existence, is finally not even to understand what art is. "
--Amiri Baraka


Today, October 7, 2009, marks the 75th birthday of one of the most important, influential, and creatively innovative writers and critics in U.S. history and one of the most significant African American artists and intellectuals of the past century. Highly gifted and creatively proficient in many different genres of literature--poetry, playwriting, cultural criticism, the essay, fiction, music and literary theory, history, and criticism, as well as journalism Baraka is also a consummate community organizer and political/cultural activist, theoretician, and strategist who has founded and/or been an integral part of many different social, cultural, and political organizations and is widely considered the leading force behind the legendary Black Arts Movement (BAM), a national cultural phenomenon that revolutionized American writing and cultural expression in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Amiri is the legendary and prolific author of over 30 books (!), an esteemed member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a past winner of the American Book Award, the Langston Hughes Award, and fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts. Baraka also taught literature, music history, cultural history, politics, and African American Studies for over 30 years at State University of New York--Stony Brook, Columbia, Yale, and Georgetown universities. His voluminous body of work consists of many essays, short fiction, a novel, cultural criticism, political analysis, an acclaimed editor of numerous literary and cultural anthologies, and music history and criticism as well as twenty five plays, and literally hundreds of extraordinary poems. After nearly five decades of intense and committed work Amiri Baraka is a modern literary giant with a global following and a living icon of the various Black Liberation Movements of the past half century.

In celebration of a life and career that has had (and continues to have) a tremendous impact and influence on many writers, artists, and politically engaged intellectuals throughout the world the following articles, essays, poems, fiction, excerpts from plays, and social commentary by Baraka and other writers and activists are offered in tribute to a great artist and compassionate, dedicated human being who has always made a concrete difference in terms of not only living in the world but most importantly changing it. These offerings are shared as an expression of our deep and heartfelt appreciation for Baraka's ongoing effort and stunning contributions. Enjoy...


As Amiri Baraka turns 75, Newarkers celebrate
By Carrie Stetler
October 1, 2009
Newark Star-Ledger

Amiri Baraka hasn’t mellowed with age.

One of the last surviving authors of the Beat Generation, and an enduring symbol of Newark’s political turmoil four decades ago, Baraka turns 75 next week.

While his native Newark has changed dramatically since the late 1960s, Baraka has not. For more than four decades, the controversial artist has continued his role as the city’s most famous gadfly and remains unrepentant about his poem "Somebody Blew Up America," which cost him the title of New Jersey poet laureate in 2002 after it was denounced as anti-Semitic. (It is a charge Baraka still refutes.)

"I’m just about the same," says Baraka, whose birthday is Wednesday, although he admits that, in recent years, he’s had to slow down a little. "You have to cut back on your schedule. I used to pop up early in the morning, stay up late and work through the night, and now I don’t do that quite as much. You have to make do with what you can do."

He does, however, plan on attending the five-day birthday celebration that Newark residents are planning in his honor, starting Saturday with jazz vespers at Bethany Baptist Church, which Baraka attended as a child. It continues with readings of his poetry, a Baraka art exhibit and a symposium on his political activism.

"Seventy-five years is quite a milestone," said Sandra West, curator of the African-American room at the Newark Library, who helped organize the event. She’s known Baraka since she was a teen in the late 1960s, when he encouraged her poetry writing as a founder of the Black Arts movement, which urged African-American artists to explore their own culture.

Although Baraka shifted from black nationalism to communism more than 40 years ago — just one in a series of personal and political transformations from the Beat era through the 1970s — he’s clung to the same revolutionary ideals.

He still denounces adversaries with terms like "neocolonial" and "petit bourgeois." And although he is a fan of President Obama — "To forget the enormous step forward he represents is destructive,’’ he says — black leaders who disappoint Baraka are derisively branded "negroes." That’s what he has called every Newark mayor from Kenneth Gibson--one of the nation’s first black mayors whose 1970 election owed a large debt to Baraka’s support--to former mayor Sharpe James and present-day mayor Cory Booker.

But Newark politicians seem to understand that this is part of the deal with Baraka. And despite his invective and ceaseless interrogations ("Why is the head of police white? ...Why can’t Symphony Hall be restored?... Why is there no museum dedicated to local history?"), they speak of him with respect and even affection.

Says Booker, "I have a problem with people who criticize but do nothing to change things, but that’s not Amiri Baraka. He’s always been a dedicated servant of the city. He’s utterly sincere in his desire to make Newark a better place. He comes from a noble American tradition of fighting for change, which includes pamphleteers like Thomas Paine to civil rights leaders. I will have nothing but love for Mr. Baraka."

Some of that love is undoubtedly due to Baraka’s charisma and virtuosity as an orator, which haven’t flagged since his post-riot heyday.

"He has a deep capacity to be charming, and in certain settings, when he doesn’t have to be the Amiri Baraka of public notoriety, he’s enormously funny," says friend Clement Price, who teaches New Jersey history at Rutgers University and is head of its Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience. "It’s hard to love a one-dimensional activist. But someone like him, who can make you laugh, it’s hard not to love them."

Baraka is still deeply entrenched in the cultural and civic life of the city, an eloquent booster who loves to recount Newark's bygone days. He can tell you, for instance, that 60 or 70 years ago jazz pianist Willie "The Lion" Smith lived on the same street as Ed Koch, who went on to become one of New York’s most famous mayors.

Despite critics who call Baraka a crackpot and a holdover, he’s maintained his international reputation as a writer. And his significance to Newark is indisputable, says Price. "He is a central figure in the demographic shift that transformed Newark from a predominantly white city to a predominately black city."

Born Everett Leroy Jones in Newark to a social worker and postal employee, he was in college when he changed the spelling of his middle name to Leroi. He later moved to New York and quickly drew notice as a poet, befriending Beat Generation luminaries like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, who remained a close friend until his death in 1997.

Baraka gained fame with his 1964 play, "Dutchman," a metaphor for the racial tensions of the era and the anger of African-Americans.

But Baraka left the limelight and returned to Newark, changing his first name to Imamu Amiri Baraka after he converted to Islam. Later, he dropped the "Imamu,’’ transforming from black nationalist to a communist in the 1970s.

Since, Baraka has weathered political and professional turmoil — sometimes self-created — as well as personal tragedy. In 2003, his daughter Shani, a Newark schoolteacher and basketball coach, was murdered in Piscataway by the estranged husband of her half-sister. She was one of the five children of Baraka and his wife, Amina, also a writer and activist. His son, Ras, now a principal at Central High School, was Newark deputy mayor in 2002. He also has a daughter, Lisa Jones, from a previous marriage to Hettie Jones; they divorced in the 1960s.

"It was a deadly kind of blow," he says of Shani’s death. "That was something that not only stunned this family, but the whole town."

Through it all, Baraka has continued to write poems, fiction, plays and essays, particularly on one of his favorite topics — black music in America. He’s authored more than 50 books, so many he’s lost count. His latest is "Digging: The Afro-American Soul of Classical Music," published in May. He’s still asked to speak — everywhere from Georgetown to Croatia — but he says demand has slackened since he lost the poet laureate title.

Although some regard his post-1960s work as little more than polemic, others say he remains one of the most important African-American authors in the nation. "I don’t think there’ll ever be another like him," says Cornel West, Princeton University’s renowned African-American studies scholar and a friend. "He’s a Renaissance man, a genius who has always been true to himself. He looks at the world through the lens of poor people and working people. He’s a man who has always been on intellectual and moral fire."

His influence continues to be felt by young authors in the city and beyond. Pulitzer-prize winning author Junot Diaz, who grew up in the Parlin section of Old Bridge, says Baraka was an inspiration to him when he was a student at Rutgers University. In 1990, Diaz and other students participated in demonstrations that included a demand to get Baraka tenure in the all-white English department, in which he was a professor. His tenure was denied that same year.

"He was a controversial figure, still is. But my God, what a poet," says Diaz. "How he fired up all of us young writers of color."

Baraka is thankful for the Newark tribute in his honor, but hopes much of its focus will be on Newark’s past and its hopes for the future. "It’s worth it if it helps educate people about the history of the city, about the struggle we’ve gone through and it’s potential," he says.

"What can I say? If people want to do it, I can’t be opposed to it."

"But apparently, there’s some kind of insistence on letting everyone know that now I’m 75," he adds drily. "I’m not as happy about that."

Amiri Baraka's 75th birthday events Tomorrow: Jazz vespers at 6 p.m. at Bethany Baptist Church, 275 West Market St., featuring piano player and composer Randy Weston. Admission is free.

Tuesday: Opening for exhibit of Baraka’s drawings from 6 to 8 p.m. at Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, 591 Broad St. Admission is free.

Wednesday: Birthday jam at the WISOMMM Cultural Center, 15 James St., featuring several jazz artists. Tickets are $50, which includes a light buffet, live entertainment and complimentary wine.

Thursday: “Baraka Book and Birthday Bash,” hosted by the Newark Public Library at 5 Washington St. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. There will be readings by young poets, a short film screening and a Baraka book signing.

Oct. 9: A symposium on “The Political Evolution of Amiri Baraka” will be held at 6 p.m. at Central High School Auditorium, 246 18th Ave. Admission is free. For more information, visit

Amiri Baraka: Fierce Fictions, Radical Truths
by Calvin Reid
May 1, 2000
Publishers weekly
Interview with Amiri Baraka

"You take your life and talk about it any way that you can get into it."

--Amiri Baraka

As the car carrying PW's interviewer proceeds through Newark, N.J.'s black neighborhoods, one recognizes many of the street names--Hillside, Central Avenue, Newark Street--that crop up in Amiri Baraka's fiction. It's not surprising; Baraka's writing has always been characterized by the habitual retelling of his life's story--his intellectual and emotional development; his conflicts and his strident, impassioned political transformations.

Born and raised in Newark, Baraka (or LeRoi Jones, as he was known until 1967) still lives in a black middle-class neighborhood not very far from where he grew up. The house where the car stops is large and old and thoroughly lived in. The ground floor is a comfortable warren of light-drenched rooms filled with wood furniture and hung with paintings and prints. Baraka rakes back his long and graying hair as we talk in a small room lined with books. Just as in the photographs of LeRoi Jones from the late '50s and early '60s, Baraka's eyes--wide open, animated and sly--command attention. The writer is short, perhaps five feet, six inches. He's a bit stooped in posture and, as a result of diabetes, rail thin. His dark green pullover and darker slacks hang loose on his frame, but his movements are quick and energetic. His conversation is informally erudite, mildly but comically profane and inflected in the colloquial, hip manner of the black jazz musicians he has written about for decades.

The publication of The Fiction of Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka this month (Lawrence Hill Books; Forecasts, March 6, 2000) will introduce Baraka's fiction to a new generation of readers. The book includes the two published works that established his reputation as a fiction writer: Tales, a collection of short stories that includes the surreal masterpiece "The Screamers," and The System of Dante's Hell, a Joycean autobiographical work of idiosyncratic linguistic invention. The volume also includes 6 Persons, an unpublished novella that assembles all the clashing phases of his life into a pointillistic, grumbling, literary self-examination. 6 Persons chronicles Baraka's life up to Malcolm X's murder in 1965, the point at which he broke with the white downtown literary scene (and left his white wife and their two children) and moved to Harlem to found the Black Arts Repertory Company and later the Black Arts Movement.

An uncompromising, albeit cultish and mercurial black political activist, Baraka has radically shifted political ideology in ways that have often left both his admirers and detractors incredulous. After years as an aggressive black nationalist and black arts aesthetician, he became an extreme left-wing Marxist in the 1970s.

Yet despite these political makeovers, his fiction has remained formally inventive, vividly p tic and deeply emotional. Baraka is a seminal American poet, an Obie award-winning playwright (The Dutchman, 1964), a pioneering black jazz critic and a deft literary essayist. His work draws both from African-American vernacular culture (particularly the improvisational legacy of the blues, jazz and black music in general) and the black American literary tradition, with its demands for social justice. He has combined these influences with the experimental techniques and forms associated with the American and European 20th-century literary avant-garde. Baraka's fiction, probably his least known body of work, manages to be both formally difficult and relatively accessible and synthesizes these seemingly antithetical traditions into vibrant works of the American literary imagination.

From Newark to the Air Force

Baraka was born in 1934. His mother was a housewife and his father was a postal worker and an elevator operator. His family emphasized the arts, and at family gatherings, "you had to sing or dance or tell stories or something," he remembers. "You couldn't just sit there, the old folks would think something was wrong with you. 'You can't sing, boy?'" He remembers piano, drum and trumpet lessons, drama class and art school. "My sister and I sang duets."

Small but intense, he was an all-around high school athlete. He won medals in track, played second base, point guard in basketball and was a halfback on the football team. "I love sports. If I had been a little bigger, I would never have been a writer." Baraka also remembers the games of the old Negro Baseball League champions, the Newark Eagles. "We used to go to see them all the time. I knew all the players."

After attending Rutgers ("there was about three black people there") briefly, in 1952 he enrolled in Howard University in Washington, D.C., the pinnacle of black scholarship for upwardly mobile African-Americans of the period. He remembers Howard with a mixture of pride and irritation. His time there is fictionalized in The System of Dante's Hell, in the story "The Alternative" from Tales and in 6 Persons. But he also flinches at memories of the school's stifling propriety and "the whole caste-color-system" that rewarded light-skinned blacks at the expense of the dark. "Petty little bourgeois, middle-class Negro madness," says Baraka.

Baraka tells PW he got thrown out of Howard "a couple of times"; "I was more interested in reading and hanging out," than attending classes. "There were always people jammed up in my room. We thought we were intellectuals and we tried to embarrass the Negr s whenever we could."

Originally a premed student, he switched to literature, studying Dante, the 17th-century English p ts and the moderns Stein and Joyce. He praises "some good teachers," like the late p t Sterling Brown, who grounded him in both European classics and in black American culture, particularly "the importance of the blues; that it was first a verse form and then the music flowed from that."

Kicked out of school (he never graduated), he headed back to Newark and joined the air force in 1954. And although he calls it "the worst thing I could have done," he also admits that the air force was "where I really got most of my education." A weatherman and a B-36 gunner, he was stationed in Puerto Rico and ended up the base librarian. Soon, the library became an informal classroom for "about eight, nine of us, black, white, Mexican. I would order TheHistory of Western Music and each night there would be something else we would listen to, say, 'Well, what do they mean by counterpoint? Oh, that's what it is.'"

And books. "All kinds of books, man--we read Proust in there, all kinds of wild shit that I would never have read--Thomas Hardy, whatever. We'd read the whole New York Times bestseller list, which was BS like it is now, though I think it was a higher level of bull then. I remember this fellow saying, 'What's a Kafka?' I said I don't know what a Kafka is. Order it. Then we'd spend a week reading Kafka. We actually taught ourselves a great deal."

He was also writing poems and sending them to the New Yorker, the Kenyon Review, the Sewanee Review and the Hudson Review. "I would send them all out and they would come back quick. I should have saved those rejections."

In the end, though, Baraka was kicked out of the air force, too. He had too many books in his room--airmen were allowed to have only the Bible and one book--and among them was TheCommunist Manifesto. "Someone said I was a Communist. As it turned out, 40 years later, now it's true," says Baraka laughing.

Discharged from the service, he returned to Newark in 1957, "determined to go to New York." He got a job at the Gotham Book Mart on West 47th Street and moved into an apartment on East 3rd Street in the East Village, "$28 a month for three rooms, no heat. I remember my mother wept when she dropped me there because the place was so shabby." He married the writer and p t Hettie Cohen in 1958, and they began publishing Yugen, an underground literary magazine devoted to the work of other p t luminaries of the beat generation. (Baraka remarried after leaving that marriage; he now has seven children with the p t Amina Baraka).

By the early 1960s, he was reading at different places in the Village, and had published his first volume of p try, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, and his first works of jazz criticism (including Blues People and Black Music, two noted critical histories of blues and jazz). He knew the beat scene and other notable writers of the period: "I met [p t] Jack Micheline down in the Village. Allen [Ginsberg] was in Paris. I sent him a letter on toilet paper asking was he for real. He sent me a letter back on better toilet paper saying that he was tired of being Allen Ginsberg. Allen and I were friends after that."

At the time, he was trying to free his p try from the influence of Robert Creeley and Charles Olson. "I decided I would consciously write another way. So I decided to put what I was writing about in my mind as a visible focus, but just write spontaneously off that image." He also let the line of his p try extend across the page. "Other p ts had a tendency to write a short, terse, well-defined kind of line," Baraka explains. "Once I let go of that preconception about the line, I found that the ideas that I wanted to talk about but couldn't, would come out, just flow out. I don't know if I consciously wanted to write fiction. It became that." The result was an extended, prosaic line of verse that prefigured the style of Dante's Hell and 6 Persons, which was written in 1973-1974.

While his work is admittedly autobiographical, Baraka says the books are not an extended memoir. "You take your life and talk about it any way that you can get into it. Some of it's fiction, some of it's like illusion, some of it's would-be, never-be and added-on-to. Some of it's literal. But it's fiction in the sense that it ain't happen like that. It's not linear. It's all kind of ways. Back and forth and up and down; reflections. The mind works like that if it's not put into the straitjacket of trying to recall literally what happened. Ultimately, what you try to get is what was the feeling of that period, what was the emotional charge of that period."

The language in these works is complex, allusive and fragmentary, like thought, but it is also emotional, capturing the raw vernacular of those times, and Baraka's characterizations of whites, homosexuals and Jews will no doubt offend all three groups. "People will jump on me about it," Baraka says. "I was going to make it politically correct, but looking at it, I thought, 'Well, that was then.' I certainly would not have described certain things that way now. In my wild mind that was the way I saw those things. I know some of it is very abrasive."

"I never wanted my fiction to be formal American literature because that's boring to me," Baraka says. "While this stuff might be more difficult, it's much more interesting to write." Surprisingly for such a pivotal literary figure, he has three unpublished novels, written since the 1970s, all in the same streaming, hallucinatory, machine-gun-paced syntax. Baraka shrugs. "The editor of 6 Persons said, 'I can't read that. Why don't you write something clear like Dante?' I said, 'What? A few years ago you told me Dante was unreadable.'"

Baraka has had a long and idiosyncratic publishing career. "My relationships with publishers haven't been great," he says. He declines to talk about his editors. His longest publishing relationship was with William Morrow, but he has also been published by Grove Press, Third World Press, Doubleday, Bantam and Thunder's Mouth Press. The Italian publisher Marsilio is currently publishing his p try and will publish a collection of essays on music later this year. He is represented by Sterling Lord Literistic.

"I'm going to try and get some books published by major publishers and continue to do my own publishing," Baraka says. "I've published a lot of my own works." The unpublished novels include Burning Mirror ("It will give you the mood of the late '70s and the political shenanigans going on"); Why Are You Saying This ("a book about the rise of the buppie, the Negro academic"); and Negrocity ("an overview of all the backwards Negr s I've ever known"). There is also a book of short stories called Tales of the Out and the Gone. And Third World Press is publishing a nonfiction work, Jesse Jackson and Black People, sometime this year.

"Wherever I speak," says Baraka, "I always urge that writers publish their own writing. Don't wait for these people [corporate publishers] to discover you, they're only going to try and turn you into them. Get your own galleries, get your own venues. You've got to have an alternative superstructure to this one, an alternative to this commercial culture."

Amiri Baraka Reading his Poetry with Music at the University of Pennslyvania in March 2013 with the Guthrie Ramsey, Jr. ensemble:

The masterful synthesis of words and music that allows the transformational merger of the lyrical and the powerful to reveal the truth...

Amiri Baraka reads "Somebody Blew Up America". (2009) Saxophone played by Rob Brown

"Somebody Blew Up America" by Amiri Baraka with Rob Brown-saxophone, recorded live on February 21, 2009 at The Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy NY.

The poet icon and political activist Amiri Baraka performs with Rob Brown, an eloquent and versatile saxophonist with a deep knowledge of jazz, in a reading from his book "Somebody Blew Up America & Other Poems.

This production is part of "Free Jazz at the Sanctuary," a 13-part series of performance videos featuring some of the world's most talented improvisers. Each hour-long show is available on DVD directly from Downtown Music Gallery ( For more information on this series, visit

Amiri Baraka "Obama Poem" (2-21-2009):

Amiri Baraka "Un Poco Loco" (2-21-2009):

Amiri Baraka "Something in the Way of Things (In Town)" (2-21-2009):

Amiri Baraka "Why's/Wise" (2-21-2009)

Def Poetry Jam TV appearance - Amiri Baraka - "Why is We Americans?"

The logic of retribution:  Amiri Baraka's Dutchman
African American Review
Summer-Fall, 2003
by Nita N. Kumar


The Black Arts Movement of the 1960s has been criticized for substituting a neo-African essentialism for what was identified as Western essentialism. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is among those who have critiqued the Black Arts Movement for promoting a "poetics rooted in a social realism, indeed, in a sort of mimeticism," in which the "relation between black art and black life was a direct one" (102). In place of the sociopolitical and empirical binarism of black and white, Gates advocates understanding "race" in the postmodernist terms of a "trope" in which the categories of black and white are not preconstituted. Amiri Baraka's work has been seen, from this postmodernist position, as advocating an essentialist and unproblematic conception of black identity.

This essay attempts to rethink the question of Baraka's binarism. The argument is that, while Baraka's retributive logic is focused on the need for assertion of ethnic and racial identity, his work also reveals complex negotiations with such binary categories as black/white and art/activism. In his essays and theoretical pronouncements Baraka sets up a fixed, non-dialectic opposition between black and white, and the categories have the double load of racial and metaphysical meaning. The white Western usage of black as a signifier of evil, death, and darkness is directly reversed, and white is made to carry the suggestions of sickness, death, and absence. When we analyze blackness in Baraka, we realize that it is both the goal to be passionately struggled for, and the innate being of the African American. The impassioned rhetoric that is built up in Baraka's essays around the terms black and white often projects the two worlds as mutually and self-evidently exclusive. Below the level of passionate rhetoric, however, the categories remain tenuously defined and shifting. Quite often the terms beg the question. "The Black Man must aspire to Blackness," says Baraka in "The Legacy of Malcolm X" (Home 248). If blackness is both the natural and the ideal state, then the term black evidently is not definitive, and needs to be defined. The charge of Baraka's propounding "black essentialism" also needs further examination, since the polarization of white and black in his work may be more apparent and strategic than real.

Rejection of the White World

What was the significance of Baraka's move from downtown New York to Harlem in 1965 and his resolute severing of ties with the white world? His essays written around this time are aggressively anti-white, and in them Baraka dwells on the necessity of destroying white culture in order to build black culture and consciousness. The white world is repeatedly described as evil, sick, and dying, and the creation of a positive black consciousness is crucially linked to the declaration of white culture as evil and insane. "In a time of chaos, in a time of trouble, we're asking for unity, black unity as defense against these mad white people who continue to run the world" (Baraka, Home 234). In a similar key, Baraka's compatriot Larry Neal, in "The Black Arts Movement," declares that the "motive behind the Black aesthetic is the destruction of the white thing, the destruction of white ideas, and white ways of looking at the world" (30). "Hate whitey" was the rallying point around which much of the black nationalist activity was being organized. "It was our intention," Baraka writes in his Autobiography, "to be hard and unyielding in our hatred because we felt that's what was needed, to hate these devils with all our hearts, that that would help in their defeat and our own liberation" (216).

This aggressive and unyielding anti-white position, which was a cornerstone of black nationalism in the middle and late 1960s, needs to be seen against the background of the integrationist Civil Rights Movement of the preceding decades. Martin Luther King's scheme of race relations proposed integration as a spiritual ideal that would engender acceptance and love between the two races. But Harold Cruse, in his influential book The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, struck out at liberal Civil Rights leaders chasing the mirage of social integration, as if there existed "a great body of homogenized, inter-assimilated white Americans" with whom blacks could integrate (9). He rejected the notion of the melting pot and claimed that, while other ethno-religious groups had no desire to integrate with each other, American blacks alone had been mesmerized by this ideal. Black nationalism, he concluded, was the only viable course for blacks trying to forge their individual and collective identities.

These rejections of the white world, however, cannot simply be understood as realistic and attainable goals. In some cases they were inspired by the various struggles of independence being waged across Africa and Asia. There is, however, a crucial difference, since the African American could aspire to nationhood only in spirit, not material control of land. Therefore these gestures of rejection have to be seen primarily as ideological and rhetorical strategies for the empowerment of the community.

A gesture is capable of sustaining a goal only up to a point, beyond which it turns into its own caricature. Thus the real gains made by the rhetoric of difference can be appreciated only after its limitations have been acknowledged and put aside. An essential corollary to the goal of black consciousness is that it is often defined in terms of its rejection of, and independence from, the white world. One cannot help noticing the irony in the persistence of the concern with the white world in Baraka's essays, even as he obsessively rejects it. Of course, he did give material form to the gesture by severing ties with the white world in the downtown Village and moving to Harlem.

Dutchman (Theater review)

My argument here is that in his emphatic gesture of rejection of the white world and ostensible establishment of a black community Baraka, at least in spirit, seems to accomplish a dual task. While he sets out the objectives of independence and self-determination for African Americans in strong, bold terms, he simultaneously moves the debate about the nature and definition of blackness, and also that of whiteness, to a more abstract level. The change of the "trope of blackness," to borrow Gates's terms, into a "trope of presence" is not accompanied by a closure of meaning but by opening up possibilities. "Blackness" and "whiteness" become internalized categories. The enemy is not only the white person, who is easily identifiable, but the whiteness hidden in shades of blackness, where it can be more difficult to detect. Hence we find his retributive rhetoric turning not only against whites but also sometimes against blacks as well.

Blackness, for Baraka, is a value that the black person has to learn. "The Black Man must idealize himself as Black. And idealize and aspire to that" (Baraka, Home 248). While the attainment of "a united Black Consciousness" remains the goal, the possibility of its definition and attainment remains problematic. In his plays, Baraka engages with the issue of racial dialectic at the level of identity construction and representation even as he attempts explicitly to align the power of art with the larger political and social agenda of the African American community.

"We want 'poems that kill'": Baraka's Dutchman

A tendency see Baraka's plays as the apotheosis of the message of the Black Arts Movement can sometimes blind us to the innumerable complexities of his work. One perspective from which we can view his work is to see it not as the simple, straight-forward embodiment of the ideas of "nationalism" and "revolution," or as an expression of a "true black identity," but as an attempt to dislodge the received opposition between various binary categories such as aesthetic/politics, black/white, individual/community, mask/face, and Europe/Africa by simultaneously occupying a radically altered perspective and privileging marginalized positions.

Dutchman has been one of the most popular of Jones/Baraka's plays and hence one that has received abundant critical attention. In an influential and then-comprehensive study of Baraka's work, Baraka: The Renegade and the Mask, Kimberly W. Benston traces in the action of the play a typical tragic pattern: "the fall from innocence through hamartia, and from hamartia to catastrophe" (158). Through tracing the classic tragic pattern in Clay's fall, Benston places him historically as a pre-revolutionary victim who is also the harbinger of eventual black triumph. In a later essay, "Performing Blackness," Benston outlines two distinct theories of black selfhood and the formation of that selfhood by and in the "play" of language. He contrasts Ralph Ellison's vision of blackness as an endlessly mediated sign with what he suggests is Baraka's more "essential" figuration of blackness. "For Baraka," Benston says, the expressions of language and the body of blackness are diametrically opposed; discourse and being are not,as for Ellison, inextricable, and the possibility of "knowing" begins with anemphatic refusal of eloquence's prestige. Blackness, far from being inextricable from the paradoxes of its articulation, finally transcends representation.
                           ("Performing" 172)

Benston's excellent analysis of blackness based on Clay's "pumping black heart" speech in Dutchman is, however, a little misleading about the play, since it allocates to Baraka a position on blackness that belongs really to Clay, and not to the play as a whole. In the play, this essentialist view of blackness that lies beyond the representational realm is shown ultimately to be self-defeating and self-destructive, since it presumes an impossibility of communication.

Several other studies have also projected the play's concern with black "manhood" and identity, finding in Clay either a fulfillment or a failure of selfhood. C. W. E. Bigsby reads in this play a direct opposition between language and action, and he sees Clay as trapped in his articulateness. At the climactic moment, Bigsby says, Clay "relapses into language ... and discards the brutal sanity of action." He sees Clay, and Jones/Baraka too, as a black intellectual who recognizes "the simple logic of revolt" but "wishes to lapse back into the safety of words and the indirections of art." Drawing on the experience of Clay, Bigsby concludes, rather unproblematically, that the play "constitutes a temptation to substitute aesthetics for action" (398). George Piggford, in "Looking into Black Skulls: Amiri Baraka's Dutchman and the Psychology of Race," makes a similar argument by pointing to the divide between action and language and suggesting that the play posits the primacy of action but falls short of achieving black "manhood" because of Clay's inability to murder Lula. Piggford says that Baraka's text does not provide a curefor the "color problem" through an understanding of it. Though Fanon's"single answer" to the "color problem"is articulated by Clay--and thatanswer is "murder"--the problem isnot eliminated. For Baraka, a publicexpression of this answer is a necessaryfirst step but it is not--as Fanon wrongly assumed--the revolution itself. (78)

Piggford concludes his essay by contending that in Dutchman "Baraka both diagnoses the problem in American society--white dominance--and prescribes his cure: race revolution and murder" (82). Both Bigsby's and Piggford's readings seem to suggest that the play has thematically arrived at an unambiguous solution to the color problem--murder and revolution-which, however, it fails to achieve within its own plot.

My disagreement with these readings lies in their rather unproblematic assumptions that the play offers a definitive statement on blackness, suggests a binary division between art and action, then argues for the simple primacy of action over language and art. These assumptions rest largely on Clay's passionate speech, in which he scathingly argues for rage and murder as the solution to the neurosis of black people and says to Lula, "You don't know anything except what's there for you to see. An act. Lies. Device. Not the pure heart, the pumping black heart" (Baraka, Dutchman 34). This statement does suggest an existing, formed black sense of identity, perhaps even an essentialist and inaccessible one. To extend, however, these perceptions of murderous rage and a lived sense of reality from Clay to the play as a whole, and to interpret these as the central meaning and the monologic message of the play, is certainly not justified. My argument is that the play itself, as distinguished from Clay's perceptions, does not offer any simple duality, either between white and black or between art and action. Dutchman is not a definitive statement on, or an embodiment of, "blackness," but is rather an exploration of the various strategies of representation of black identity and the possibility of unraveling these. The play does not so much posit an authentic black sense of selfhood as explore the processes and modes of misrepresentation concerning it. It engages dialectically with racial domination in terms of representation and attempts to invest art and language with the power and immediacy of action.
The plot of Dutchman is bare and stark. Other than the background cast of Riders of Coach, and the brief appearances of Young Negro and Conductor, the play has only two characters, Clay, a twenty-year-old Negro, and Lula, a thirty-year-old white woman. The entire action of the play takes place in "the flying underbelly of the city. Steaming hot, and summer on top, outside. Underground. The subway heaped in modern myth" (3). Clay and Lula engage in flirtatious repartee that becomes increasingly sharp and terse. To Clay Lula is a white bohemian; to Lula, Clay is a typical middle-class young black, eager to achieve success on the terms laid down by white America. Lula becomes aggressive and insulting, calling him a "liver-lipped white man ... just a dirty white man" (31). Finally Clay slaps her and bursts into a long, uncontrollable, and dramatically powerful speech that begins to wrench away the middle-class fake-white-man facade and offer a glimpse into the tortured and conflicted psyche of a black man in America. He gains the upper hand but decides not to kill Lula. She, however, calmly stabs Clay while other subway riders look on passively, which suggests their complicity. She orders them to throw his body off the train. The train stops, and another young black man enters and sits near Lula. She follows his movements, hinting that the drama is going to be played out all over again.

Dutchman (Theater review)

To examine the issue of reality and representation, it would be instrumental to approach the play through Lula and her many faces. Lula is described in the play as "a tall, slender, beautiful woman with long red hair hanging straight down her back wearing only loud lipstick in somebody's good taste." Dressed in bright, skimpy summer clothes, she enters the subway "eating an apple, very daintily" (5). So far the details represent a realistic character not very difficult to comprehend and locate in a social context. As soon as she begins to talk, however, she breaks the rules of the game, or rather dictates both the game and the rules. Very deliberately she begins to invest herself with elusiveness, unpredictability, and mysteriousness, eventually acquiring an extremely powerful and threatening dimension. Lula is a strategist whose every word and move, in retrospect, are loaded with significance and deliberateness. Her strategies are concerned with, and belong to, the realm of looking, appearance, and representation of self and others.

Significantly, the opening action of the play revolves around looking and being looked at. After Lula enters the car, she stops beside Clay's seat, and the stage direction reads: "It is apparent that she is going to sit in the seat next to CLAY, and that she is only waiting for him to notice her before she sits." Clay sees the woman and "looks up into her face, smiling quizzically" (5; italics mine). She opens the dialogue by commenting on the weight she is carrying, to which he replies, "Doesn't look like much to me." Her retort, "It's so anyway," begins to hint, very unobtrusively, at the hiatus between "being" and "looking." After this bit of small talk, however, she confronts him head-on. "Weren't you staring at me through the window?" she says, and follows it with the more startling charge that he was staring through the window "down in the vicinity of my ass and legs" (8; italics mine). The talk soon shifts to what Clay looks like and Lula's delineation of his character. "Looking," both in its active sense of 'seeing' and 'perceiving' and in its passive sense of 'appearing,' forms a central preoccupation of this play. Lula invests this activity with deliberateness, consciousness, and motive. We can analyze Lula and her strategies of perception by considering her in the following ways.

Lula as a Postmodernist

The emergence of post-structuralism in the 1960s had radical implications for humanist thinking and the ideas of personhood. Instead of being a stable and determinate locus of meaning, the human being became a field of indeterminacy and interpretive freedom that pervaded every arena in postmodernist theory. In "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," Derrida, talking about interpretation and meaning, says:

There are two interpretations of interpretation.
The one seeks to decipher,
dreams of deciphering a truth or an
origin which escapes play and the
order of the sign and which lives the
necessity of interpretation as an exile.
The other, which is no longer turned
toward the origin, affirms play and
tries to pass beyond man and humanism,
the name of man being the name
of that being who, throughout the history
of metaphysics and of onto-theology--in
other words, throughout his
entire history--has dreamed of full
presence, of reassuring foundation, of
the origin and the end of play. (121-22)

Added to the idea of interpretation as play, rather than an activity sustained by an end or an origin, is the further problem that language itself is indeterminate, with endless possibilities of meaning open in it. As Jonathan Culler observes in On Deconstruction, "A Derridean would agree that the language game is played but might go on to point out that one can never be quite certain who is playing, or playing 'seriously,' what the rules are, or which game is being played" (130-31).

Derrida's book Writing and Difference, in which "Structure, Sign and Play" appears, was published in English in 1978, but in 1964, in Dutchman, Lula is already a Derridean in her interpretation of "self." She is, or rather represents herself as being, an indeterminate creature for whom being is a form of game playing. Soon after confronting Clay, she begins building up his persona through a series of conjectures that have no verifiable source. She informs Clay that he looks like he has been trying to grow a beard, that he lives in New Jersey with his parents, that he has been reading Chinese poetry and drinking lukewarm sugarless tea, and that he looks "like death eating a soda cracker" (8). These details have a certain amount of validity and reliability as conjecture and stereotyping, and the fact that most of this accords with Clay's life baffles him and puts him on the track of further expectation of referentiality. Because most of what Lula has said is true about his life, he insists that she must know his friend, Warren Enright, or be a friend of his sister, Georgia. Lula, however, pulls the rug from under his feet when she says, "I told you I lie a lot. I don't know your sister. I don't know Warren Enright." Lula is not only unconcerned with the verifiability of her conjectures, but is also not interested in their validity. To Clay's puzzled response, "I look like all that?" she replies nonchalantly, "Not all of it.... I lie a lot. It helps me control the world" (10). Lula certainly controls her interaction with Clay through whatever construction and direction she puts upon her language. The dialogue between the two is not so much an interaction, as a series of self-conscious inanities initiated and concluded autonomously by Lula, to which Clay responds as best he can. She talks about going to a party with Clay, about going to her house, about Clay's history and sociology--all, however, as self-conscious play on words and ideas. Lula entices, rebuffs, analyzes, and insults Clay with very little provocation from him.

Lula's stereotyping of Clay contrasts pointedly with her representation of herself as indeterminate, changeable, and unpredictable. Clay's efforts to locate and fix her image are rebuffed in a weary kind of manner. She meets his searching comments with the dismissive "I told you I wasn't an actress ... but I also told you I lie all the time. Draw your own conclusions" (27). Whatever information she does give about herself is supposed to come as a surprise to Clay. The reference to her age in her comment, "My hair is turning gray. A gray hair for each year and type I've come through," and the information that she lives in a tenement because it reminds her "specifically of my novel form of insanity," are unexpected bits of news to Clay (13, 24). Even her generalization about "life" as "change"--"Our whole story ... nothing but change"--is undercut immediately by the cryptic comment, "Except I do go on as I do" (28). Her changeableness and "playfulness," initially innocuous, turn menacing and finally destructive when she kills Clay after he has harangued her about himself and his tortured and hidden psyche. She becomes hard and businesslike as she says, "I've heard enough," and plunges her small knife twice into Clay's chest (37). Lula's apparent randomness takes on a sinister, premeditated aspect as she orders the other subway riders to throw Clay's body out, starts straightening her things and getting everything in order. It is as if she has timed and controlled the entry of the next young Negro who walks into the coach, completely oblivious of the preceding action. The suggestion of premeditatedness of Lula's plan is there in the play at the beginning, when the direction reads that she "begins very premeditatedly to smile," as well as at the play's end, and thus frames the main action of the play (4). Within the play, however, even her premeditatedness remains an element of her unpredictability.

Lula as the Dominant "Self"/The "Other" as the "Fake Self"

In marked contrast Lula's sense of her own identity, her perception of Clay is a series of stereotyped images hurled at him without any pretense or apology. She tells him disarmingly, "You are a well-known type" (12). She evokes every stereotype that has historically defined the African American, from the escaped slave to Uncle Tom to a "middle-class fake white man" (34). Stereotyping is the most efficient form of lying that helps Lula control Clay. The strategy by which she transforms stereotypes into structures of power and control is by working into the images an element of culpability, which can then become the reason for destroying the black man. "Everything you say [and do] is wrong," Lula tells Clay, and this works as the premise on which perceptions are built. As a nigger, he is an "escaped nigger"; as a non-nigger; he is "just a dirty white man." Not fitting the image of a real "nigger," he becomes a "liver-lipped white man" (31). Ridiculing Clay for wearing a jacket and tie, Lula tells him the brutal truth that these things belong to the tradition he ought to feel oppressed by. She characterizes him as either guilty or fake, with little possibility of an authentic existence.

The most condemning dimension of the stereotyped images in the play involves black sexuality. Although the sexual overtures here belong to Lula, they are made on the assumption of wayward sexual energy in Clay. Lula is undeterred by Clay's attempts to deviate from the image, and plays out the game of seduction, provocation, and castration determinedly. At the end, when she impales him, it is not clear whether the reason lies in the culpable sexuality she imagines in him, or in his refusal to conform to that image. When she begins to dance in "a rhythmical shudder and twist like wiggle," and calls on him to "rub bellies," he reacts with fury telling her, "You want to do the belly rub? Shit, you don't even know how" (30, 34).

Historically the white woman was used to castrate the black man with the accusation of rape. Here, however, a refusal to rape is an equally good reason for the sentence of death. Lula is aggressive and menacing and emerges as the face of an orchestrated, destructive white power. Lula deals with Clay's long outburst near the end of the play, beginning with, "Shit, you don't have any sense, Lula, nor feelings either," in an extremely crisp and businesslike manner (33). "I've heard enough," she says, and proceeds to plunge her knife into his chest. In the subway, in the world of the play, Lula's authority is supreme and unchallenged. Clay's act of assertion is an offense, a sin for which the only retribution is death. Lula, and all that she represents, becomes the reason as well as the agent of the destruction of Clay and his world.

Clay's long, accusatory harangue talks about his "pure heart, the pumping black heart," and traces the connection between black rage and black art that has been the focus of much critical attention. It has assured life and hearing to the play as surely as it means death for Clay. The force and conviction of this climactic speech are palpable. Its interpretation and the question of its framing, however--precisely because Clay's words are so raw and direct--remain open to difference. The speech has often been interpreted as a definitive statement by Baraka on certain key issues faced by the African American artist. Seen this way, the statement has been assumed to be a retributive, hard-hitting one which preaches that only a reversal of the binary position, which would put the "black man" in the position of assault, would offer a possibility of change. While there is no denying that the speech raises important issues, to treat it as the meaning of the play and to lay the weight of the play on it is to judge the whole by its part. There seems to be very little justification--in spite of the fact that Clay, like Baraka, is a poet--for treating Clay's voice as that of the playwright, without framing the speech within the structure of the play.

Clay's monologue is structured as a series of reversals and revelations. Assuming the control of speech, Clay for a while reverses the power relationship with Lula and the rest of the people in the subway car. This sense of power is perceived and expressed as the power to kill: "I could murder you ... and all these weak-faced ofays," Clay proclaims (33). This perception of his power, however, gives way to a revelation of the dilemmas and the inherent conflict at the root of this sense of power. Art, rage, and reason are represented as painfully locked together in the psyche of the black man in America. Clay projects African American art as a form of misplaced and transmuted rage in his oft-quoted references to Bessie Smith and Charlie Parker: "Bird would have played not a note of music if he just walked up to East Sixty-seventh Street and killed the first ten white people he saw." The disjunction between the mask and the self creates a neurosis with which the black man deals through its oblique expression in art. Through her music, Clay contends, Bessie Smith says, "Kiss my ass, kiss my black unruly ass" (35). Clay's solution to this neurosis is murder, which however, even in the process of its exposition, becomes rhetorical and metaphorical: "They will cut your throats, and drag you out to the edge of your cities so the flesh can fall away from your bones, in sanitary isolation" (36). This rhetoric of murder is instantly contrasted in the play with Lula's act of conducting a swift and real murder. This dialectic of speech and action is also an undercutting of one by the other. Lula's power of speech is undercut by Clay's discourse about the power of action, which is further undercut by Lula's demonstration of real power through action.

Lest this interplay of language, art, and action be interpreted at individual levels, the play takes care to make visible a car full of people who are the supporting agents whose role in the power game cannot be discounted. Thus the passionate but rather simplistic message of Clay's speech linking art with rage and valorizing rage over art is allowed to retain its urgency, even as the play puts it back in its more complex perspective by bringing in the larger context. The play also demonstrates the power of Clay's speech, which can reach the audience even though it is summarily dismissed by Lula. In a complex interworking, the play thus affirms as well as denies the validity of art in the process of self-liberation.

Clay's message of rage cannot be equated with Baraka's valorizing of an activist and committed art. When Baraka proclaims in his poem "Black Art" that "We want 'poems that kill'/ Assassin poems, Poems that shoot / guns," he is not displacing art by rage, but is rather struggling to invest art with more power (219). Nor can the play be seen as advocating an essentialist perception of black identity encapsulated in Clay's "pumping black heart" image. On the contrary, Baraka is here combating the forms of representation/ perception that become forms of persecution by denying blackness any possibility of viable existence. The source of this persecution, the play suggests, lies in a severing of modes of representation and discourse from any authentic context. Thus, in the dialectical, penetrative understanding embodied in the play, the retributive logic remains, but not merely in the form of physical violence. White violence is seen to be operating at the level of the construction of black identity, and it is at this level that the play seeks to contend with the oppressive structures of the binary, racial logic.

Works Cited

Baraka, Amiri (LeRoi Jones). The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones. New York: Freundlich, 1984.

--. "Black Art." The LeRoi Jones/ Amiri Baraka Reader. Ed. William J. Harris. New York: Thunder's Mouth P, 1991. 219.

--. Dutchman. Dutchman and The Slave. New York: Morrow, 1964. 3-38.

--. Home: Social Essays. New York: Morrow, 1966.

--. Raise Race Rays Raze. New York: Vintage, 1969. Benston, Kimberly W. Baraka: The Renegade and the Mask. New Haven: Yale UP, 1976.

--. "Performing Blackness: Re/Placing Afro-American Poetry." Afro-American Literary Study in the 1990s. Ed. Houston A. Baker, Jr., and Patricia Redmond. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989. 164-93.

Bigsby, C. W. E. A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama 3: Beyond Broadway. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985.

Cruse, Harold. The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. New York: Morrow, 1967.

Culler, Jonathan. On Deconstruction. London: Routledge, 1982.

Derrida, Jacques. "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences." 1978. Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader. Ed. David Lodge. London: Longmans, 1988. 107-23.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars. New York: Oxford UP, 1992.

Neal, Larry. "The Black Arts Movement." Drama Review 12.4 (1968): 29-39.

Piggford, George. "Looking into Black Skulls: Amiri Baraka's Dutchman and the Psychology of Race." Modern Drama 40.1 (1997): 74-85.

Nita N. Kumar, Professor of English at Shyama Prasad Mukherji College, University of Delhi, has a Ph.D. in African American drama. Her recent publications Include "Black Arts Movement and Ntozake Shange's Choreopoem" (Black Arts Quarterly, 2001) and "Invisible Women in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man" (Indo-American Review, 1999).

COPYRIGHT 2003 African American Review
COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning


(Originally posted on October 7, 2013)


Now Dig This! curator Kellie Jones and her father—renowned poet, playwright, and activist Amiri Baraka—discuss their collaboration on Jones's book EyeMinded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art, which investigates various perspectives on art making throughout different generations. Jones is associate professor in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. Her writings have appeared in NKA, Artforum, Flash Art, Atlantica, Third Text, and numerous catalogues. Baraka is the author of more than 40 books of essays, poems, drama, and music history and criticism. The former Poet Laureate of New Jersey, he has received numerous honors including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and an Obie Award for his play Dutchman (1963). A book signing will follow the conversation.

KELLIE JONES  (b. May 16,1959)
AMIRI BARAKA  (b. October 7, 1934)

An Excerpt From:

Blues People: The Negro Experience In White America and the Music That Developed From It
William Morrow, 1963
by Leroi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka)

Chapter One:
The Negro as Non-American: Some Backgrounds

When black people got to this country, they were Africans, a foreign people. Their customs, attitudes, desires, were shaped to a different place, a radically different life. What a weird and unbelievably cruel destiny for those people who were first brought here. Not just the mere fact of being sold into slavery--that in itself was common practice among the tribes of West Africa, and the economic system in which these new slaves were to form so integral a part was not so strange either. In fact, Melville Herskovits points out, "Slavery [had] long existed in the entire region [of West Africa], and in at least one of its kingdoms, Dahomey, a kind of plantation system was found under which an absentee ownership, with the ruler as principal, demanded the utmost return from the estates, and thus created conditions of labor resembling the regime the slaves were to encounter in the New World."' But to be brought to a country, a culture, a society, that was, and is, in terms of purely philosophical correlatives, the complete antithesis of one's own version of man's life on earth--that is the cruelest aspect of this particular enslavement.

An African who was enslaved by Africans, or for that mattter, a Western white man who was, or is, enslaved by another Western white man can still function as a kind of human being. An economic cipher perhaps, even subject to unmentionable cruelties--but that man, even as the lowest and most despised member of the community, remains an essential part and member of whatever community he is enslaved in; the idea being, even if an African from the GuineaCoast is sold or beaten into slavery by an African from the Gold Coast, there continues to exist, at the very least, some understanding that what the victor has reduced into whatever cruel bondage is a man--another human being. There remains some condition of communication on strictly human terms between Babylonian and Israelite or Assyrian and Chaldean that allows finally for acceptance of the slave caste as merely an economically oppressed group. To the Romans, slaves were merely vulgar and conquered peoples who had not the rights of Roman citizenship. The Greeks thought of their slaves as unfortunate people who had failed to cultivate their minds and wills, and were thus reduced to that lowly but necessary state. But these slaves were still human beings. However, the African who was unfortunate enough to find himself on some fast clipper ship to the New World was not even accorded membership in the human race.

From the actress Frances Anne Kemble's, Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation: "The only exception that I have met with yet among our boat voices to the high tenor which they seem all to possess is in the person of an individual named Isaac, a basso profundo of the deepest dye, who nevertheless never attempts to produce with his different register any different effects in the chorus by venturing a second, but sings like the rest in unison, perfect unison, of both time and tune. By-the-by, this individual does speak, and therefore I presume he is not an ape, orangoutang, chimpanzee, or gorilla; but I could not, I confess, have conceived it possible that the presence of articulate sounds, and the absense of an articulate tail, should make, externally at least, so completely the only appreciable difference between a man and a monkey, as they appear to do in this individual `black brother.' Such stupendous long thin hands, and long flat feet, I did never see off a large quadruped of the ape species. But, as I said before, Isaac speaks, and I am much comforted thereby."

There was no communication between master and slave on any strictly human level, but only the relation one might have to a piece of property--if you twist the knob on your radio you expect it to play. It was this essential condition of nonhumanity that characterized the African slave's lot in this country of his captivity, a country which was later and ironically to become his land also.

Perhaps more weight will be added to the idea of the foreignness of the African in the New World if we consider that not only were the Africans completely different in appearance from their captors, but there was not even a semblance of similarity between the various dialects those Africans spoke and colonial English. In Greece, there were slaves who taught Greek children their grammar and conducted classes in botany, as well as performing more menial tasks. The Romans employed slaves in the theater, in gladiatorial combats, and utilized the highly-educated foreign slaves as instructors. Epictetus, Terence, and Phaedrus were slaves. But the black slave in America had no chance for such intelligent diversion based on his skills or prominence in his own country. The African's sole purpose in America was, for the most part, to provide the cheapest agricultural labor possible to procure. Any deviation from this purpose was either accidental or extremely rare. (Even such a normal phenomenon as the "house nigra" was nonexistent on the smaller farms; on the larger plantation there were only one or two. Sometimes the house slave was merely the oldest or most infirm member of the owner's retinue; even after the advent of the African slave, for some time house servants on the larger plantations were indentured white persons.)

It is certain that it was this foreignness and the reluctance of the white American to think of the African as another man that helped early to fix the African's, and later the AfroAmerican's, place in American society--just as the color of the African's skin set him apart from the rest of the society blatantly and permanently. A freed serf, if he was lucky, could hope at least to matriculate into the lower rungs of the general society and perhaps find some genuine niche in the mainstream of that society in which to function as a citizen, a man. But the African, and later even the freed black, was always apart. A freed Negro, and there were quite a few of them even before the so-called Emancipation, would always remain an ex-slave. Otherwise, what was he doing in this country?

Happy 50th Birthday Blues People!


Congratulations to Amiri Baraka, author of the now-fifty-years-old Blues People! Baraka’s stunning book, about the people who first began to make and who popularized the blues, has been in print since it first appeared on bookstore shelves in 1963. NPR’s A Blog Supreme writes:
Baraka — as LeRoi Jones — came from a middle-class upbringing, including university studies at Rutgers, Columbia and Howard Universities. But he also served in the Air Force, married Jewish writer Hettie Cohen and published a critically acclaimed 1961 work, Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note, which established him as a noteworthy figure among the Beat Generation. It was the influence of the late poet Sterling Brown, who taught generations of Howard students — including Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison and conservative economist Thomas Sowell — who gave Baraka the impulse to investigate the older folk traditions of African-American music.

“I always liked jazz,” Baraka says. “And my people liked the old blues, race records and the doo-wop and all that. But when I went to Howard, the great Sterling Brown was a great influence on many of us. A.B. Spellman and I, Toni Morrison … a lot of us sat up under Brown. And so, you can always tell that influence.

“We thought we knew so much about jazz. [Brown] said, ‘Why don’t you come on by my house, I’ll show you some things.’ We went by there, and he had the whole wall full of records, by chronology and genre, and he said to me, ‘That’s your history.’ So it took me a decade to find that those records told a story: Every voice, every title is telling you the story of Afro-American history. I really latched on to that idea. And I went back and started listening to the blues.”

“[Professor Brown] knew the music very well — particularly the great heroic bands like [Duke] Ellington, [Don] Redman, [Jimmie] Lunceford and [Count] Basie, and so forth,” Spellman says. “And he was always very insistent that we know the music of the founders, and to know why their music endures, and what made that music. He was a terrific mind: a person with a good, clear and solidly based intellect.”

Read more of NPR’s fantastically informative birthday card at A Blog Supreme.

Tags: Amiri Baraka, Blues People, Newark, NJ
Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, July 30th, 2013 by Harriet Staff

Blues People
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

(FULL TITLE: Blues People: The Negro Experience in White America and the Music That Developed From It)

Blues People (Negro Music in White America) is a seminal study of Afro-American music (and culture generally) by Amiri Baraka, who published it as LeRoi Jones in 1963.[1] In Blues People Baraka explores the possibility that the history of black Americans can be traced through the evolution of their music. It is considered a classic work on jazz and blues music in American culture. This book documents the effects jazz and blues had on America on an economic, musical, and social level. It chronicles the types of music dating back to the slaves up until the 1960s. Blues People argues that “negro music”—as Amiri Baraka calls it—appealed to and influenced white America. According to Baraka, music and melody is not the only way the gap between American culture and African American culture was bridged. Music also helped spread values and customs through its media exposure. Blues People demonstrates the influence of African Americans and their culture on American culture and history. The book examines blues music as performance, as cultural expression, even in the face of its commodification. To Baraka, Blues People represented “everything [he] had carried for years, what [he] had to say, and [himself].” The book is deeply personal and chronicles what brought Baraka to believe that blues was a personal history of his people in the United States. The resonance and desperation within this type of music is what compelled Baraka to learn about the history of blues music. He learned through his studies that the “Africanisms” is directly related to American Culture, rather than being solely related to Black people. Baraka dedicates the book to my parents ... the first Negroes I ever met.


1 Lay-out
1.1 The Negro as Non-American: Some Backgrounds
1.2 The Negro as Property
1.3 African Slaves / American Slaves
1.4 Afro-Christian Music & Religion
1.5 Slave and Post-Slave
1.6 Primitive Blues & Primitive Jazz
2 Classic Blues
2.1 The City
2.2 Enter the Middle Class
2.3 Swing--from Verb to Noun
2.4 The Blues Continuum
2.5 the Modern Scene
3 Notes and references


The 1999 reprint begins with a reminiscent piece by the author, now 65, titled Blues People: Looking Both Ways, in which he credits poet and English teacher Sterling Brown with having inspired both him and his contemporary A. B. Spellman. Baraka does not here discuss the impact his book has had.

The original text is divided into twelve sections, thus:

The Negro as Non-American: Some Backgrounds[edit]
Baraka opens his book by arguing that the Africans suffered in America not only because they were slaves, but because American customs were completely foreign to them. Baraka argues that slavery itself was not unnatural or alien to the African people as slavery had long before existed in the tribes of West Africa. Some forms of West African slavery even resembled the plantation system that was to be found in America. Baraka then discusses a brief history of slavery, inside and outside of the United States. Baraka argues that unlike the slaves of Babylon, Israel, Assyria, Rome, and Greece, American slaves were not even considered human.
Baraka then further addresses his previous assertion that African slaves suffered in the New World because of the alien environment around them. For example, the language and dialect of colonial English had no resemblance to the African dialects. However the biggest difference, that set the African people aside, was the difference in skin color. Even if the African slaves were freed, they would always remain apart, and be seen as ex-slaves rather than as freed individuals. Colonial America was in essence, an alien land in which the African people could not assimilate due to the difference in culture and because they were seen as less than human.

The horrors of slavery can be broken down into the different ways in which violence was done against African people. In this section Baraka contends that one of the reasons the Negro people had, and continue to have, a sorrowful experience in America is because of the violently different ideologies held by them and their captors. Baraka transitions from highlighting the economic intentions of western religion and war to pointing out how the very opposite life views of the West African can be construed as primitive because of the high contrast. He addresses the violence done against the cultural attitudes of Africans brought to this country to be enslaved. He references the rationale used by western society to justify its position of intellectual supremacy. Western ideologies are often formed around a heightened concept of self; it is based on a belief that the ultimate happiness of mankind is the sole purpose of the universe. These beliefs are in direct opposition to those of the Africans originally brought to this country, for whom the purpose of life was to appease the Gods and live out a predetermined fate.

Baraka stresses a point made by Melville Herskovits, the anthropologist responsible for establishing African and African American studies in academia, which suggests that value is relative or that “reference determines value”. Although Baraka is not justifying the white supremacist views of the West, he does create a space to better understand the belief that one can be more evolved than a people from whom one differs very much. Likewise the author does not name the African system of belief in supernatural predetermination as better but speaks of how an awful violence is done against these people ideologically, by forcing them into a world that believes itself to be the sole judge of the ways in which proper existence must occur.

The Negro as Property

In chapter 2, "The Negro as Property," Baraka focuses on the journey from the African to the African American. He breaks down the process of the African's acculturation to show its complex form. Baraka begins with the initial introduction to life in America. He compares the African's immigrant experience to that of the Italian and Irish. He says the Italian and Irish came "from their ghetto existences into the promise and respectability of this brave New World" (12). Africans on the other hand, came to this new world against their will. There was no promise or respectability in America for them, only force and abrupt change, and this defines the evolution of African American culture.

After emancipation in 1863, the former slaves are being included in society. Baraka explains, these former slaves are no longer Africans. They are people of African descent who have, for generations adapted to American culture. Their arrival and assimilation are most importantly not by choice. After being forcefully brought to America, the following generations are raised in a system that ostracizes any trace of African culture. Children are immediately separated from their slave mothers at birth. They only learn stories and songs about Africa but lack the experience. Baraka states, "the only way of life these children knew was the accursed thing they had been born into" (13). He shows that slavery is the most influential factor in African American culture. Baraka goes on to include the living conditions of slavery as an additional force. He refers to Herskovits's ideas to explain the dilution of African culture in the United States specifically. In the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas there are much heavier traces of African culture in the slave population. Herskovits explains this as a result of the master to slave ratio in these areas. In the United States the master to slave ratio was much smaller than in other regions of the New World, and is reflected in its form of a slave culture with constant association between the master and slave.

Baraka continues with a description of the effects of the "constant association" between African slaves and the culture of their white masters. This, Baraka states, was a phenomenon confined to the United States. Whereas in the Caribbean and South America the majority of white slave owners had households wealthy enough to keep teams of hundreds of slaves, the American south maintained a class of "poor white"s who owned smaller groups of forced workers. In these smaller estates slaves would often be subjected to sexual abuse at the hand of their masters, as well as social cohabitation among small children (however black and white children would not attend the same schools.) Baraka asserts that a result of this "intimacy" was the alienation of African slaves from the roots of their culture - tribal references (as well as the "intricate political, social, and economic systems of the West Africans"- including trades such as wood carving and basket weaving) faded in the wake of American culture- relegated to the status as "artifact." Baraka argues that only religious, magical, and artistic African practices (that do not result in "artifacts") survived the cultural whitewashing, standing as the "most apparent legacies" of the roots of African families made slaves.

African Slaves / American Slaves

Jazz is recognized as beginning around the turn of the last century, but is actually much older. Most people believe that its existence derived from African slavery, but it has native African-American roots. Blues music gave birth to Jazz, and both genres of music stem from the work songs of the first generation of African slaves in America. As slave owners forbade their slaves to chant and sing their ritualistic music, in fear of a rebellion, the original African slaves were forced to change their work songs in the field. The lyrics of their songs changed as well, as the original African work songs did not suit their oppressed situation. Jones states that the first generation of these slaves, the native Africans, truly knew the struggle of being forced into submission and stripped of their religion, freedoms, and culture. The music that formed as a result became a combination of the original African work songs and references to slave culture. Negros in the New World transformed their language to be a mix of their own language and their European masters' which included Negro-English, Negro-Spanish, Negro-French, and Negro-Portuguese, all of which can be observed in their songs. Story-telling was the primary means of education within the slave community, and folk tales were a popular and useful means of passing down wisdom, virtues, and so on from the elders to the youth. These folk tales also became integrated into their music and American culture, and later began to appear in the lyrics of blues songs. Expression of oneself, emotions, and beliefs was the purpose of the African work song. Instruments, dancing, culture, religion, and emotion were blended together to form this representative form of music. Adaptation, interpretation, and improvisation lay at the core of this American Negro music. The nature of slavery dictated the way African culture could be adapted and evolved. For example, drums were forbidden by many slave owners, for fear of its communicative ability to rally the spirits of the enslaved, and lead to aggression or rebellion. As a result, slaves used other percussive objects to create similar beats and tones. As the music derived from their slave/field culture, shouts and hollers were incorporated into their work songs, and were later represented through an instrumental imitation of blues and jazz music. From these origins, Jones declares that “the notable fact is that the only so-called popular music in this country of any real value is of African derivation.”

Afro-Christian Music & Religion

Christianity was adopted by the Negro people before the efforts of missionaries and evangelists. The North American Negroes were not even allowed to practice or talk about their own religion that their parents taught them. Specifically, in the south, slaves were sometimes beaten or killed when they talked about conjuring up spirits or the devil. Negroes also held a high reverence to the gods of their conquerors. Since their masters ruled over their everyday lives, Negroes acknowledge that the conqueror’s gods must be more powerful than the gods they were taught to worship through discreet traditions. Christianity was also attractive to the Negroes, because it was a point of commonality between the white and black men. Negroes were able to finally imitate something valuable from their white slave owners. By accepting Christianity, Negro men and women had to put away a lot of their everyday superstitious traditions and beliefs in lucky charms, roots, herbs, and symbolism in dreams. White captors or slave masters exposed Christianity to the slaves because they saw Christianity as justification for slavery. Christianity gave the slaves a philosophical resolution of freedom. Instead of wishing to go back to Africa, slaves were looking forward to their appointed peaceful paradise when they meet their savior. Although they had to endure the harshness of slavery, the joy of living a peaceful life forever in eternity meant a lot more for them. As a result of accepting Christianity, slave masters were also happy that their slaves were now bound to live by a high moral code of living in order that they inherent the promise land. A lot of the early Christian Negro church services greatly emphasized music. Call and response songs were typically found in African services. Through singing of praise and worships songs in church, Negroes were able to express pent up emotions. Also, African church elders also banish singing of certain songs they considered “secular” or “devil songs”(pg 48). They also banished the playing of violins and banjos. Churches also began sponsoring community activities such as barbecues, picnics, and concerts which allowed the Negroe people to interact with each other. As time went by, African churches were able to produce more liturgical leaders such as apostles, ushers, and deacons. After the slaves were emancipated, the church community that was built by Negro leaders began to disintegrate because many began to enjoy the freedom outside of the church. As a result, some began listening again to the devil music that was banned in the church and secular music became more and more prevalent.

Slave and Post-Slave

The “Slave and Post Slave” section mainly addresses Baraka’s analysis of the cultural changes Negro Americans had to face through their liberation as slaves, and how Blues developed and transformed through this process. After years of being defined as property, the Negro had no place in the post-slave white society. They had to find their place both physically, as they looked for somewhere to settle, but also psychologically as they reconstructed their self-identity and social structure. Their freedom gave them a new sense of autonomy, but also took away the structured order of life they had been a costumed to. Baraka believes the Civil War and the Emancipation served to create a separate meta-society among Negroes, separating the Negroes more effectively from their masters with the institution of Jim Crow laws and other social repressions. The Reconstruction period brought about liberty for the American Negro and an austere separation from the white ex-slave owners and the white society that surrounded them. Organizations such as the KKK, Pale Faces, and Men of Justice emerged, seeking to frighten Negroes into abandoning their newly found rights, and succeeding. The Negro leaders— or educated, professional or elite Negro Americas like Booker T. Washington— and many of the laws that were made to still separate both races at time, divided the blacks into different groups amongst themselves. There were those who accepted the decree of “separate but equal” as the best way for the Negro to live peacefully in the white order and those who were separate from white society. After the initial period following the Emancipation, songs that arose from the conditions of slavery created the idea of blues, including the sounds of “shouts, hollers, yells, spirituals, and ballits,” mixed with the appropriation and deconstruction of white musical elements. These musical traditions were carried along the post-slavery Negro culture, but it had to adapt to their new structure and way of life, forming the blues that we recognize today.

Primitive Blues & Primitive Jazz

The “Primitive Blues and Primitive Jazz” section refers to Baraka’s breakdown of the development of Blues—and Jazz as an instrumental diversion— as Negro music through the Slave and especially Post-slave eras, into the music that we would consider blues today (its standardized and popular form). After Emancipation Negroes now had the leisure of being alone and thinking for themselves; however, the situation of self-reliance proposed social and cultural problems that they never encountered as slaves. Both instances were reflected in their music, as the subject music became more personal and touched on issues of wealth and hostility. The change among speech patterns, which began to resemble Americanized English, also created a development in Blues as words had to be announced correctly and soundly. With Negro singers no longer being tied to the field, they had an opportunity to interact with more instruments; primitive or country blues was influenced by instruments, especially the guitar. Jazz occurs from the appropriation of this instruments and their divergent use by Blacks, with elements like “riffs” which gave it a unique Negro or Blues sound. In New Orleans Blues was influenced by European musical elements especially that of brass instruments and marching band music. Accordingly the uptown Negroes, differentiated from the ‘Creoles’ –Blacks with French ancestry and culture, usually of a higher class— gave a more primitive, “jass” or “dirty” sound to this appropriated music; which gave Blues and Jazz a distinct sound. A sound Creoles had to adapt to, once segregation placed them on the same level as all other freed black slaves. The fact that the Negro could never become White was a strength, providing a boundary between him and the white culture; creating music that was referenced by African, sub-cultural, and hermetic resources.

Classic Blues

Amiri Baraka starts the chapter with marking it as the time period where Classic blues and ragtime came to be big around. The change from Baraka’s idea of traditional blues to classic represented a new professional entertainment stage for African American art. Prior to classical blues, traditional blues’ functionality required no explicit rules, and therefore a method didn't exist. Classic blues added a structure that was not there before. It started becoming popular with the change in minstrel shows and circuses. Minstrel shows demonstrated recognition of the “negro” as part of American popular culture, which though it always had been it was never formally recognized. It was now more formal. Minstrel shows, despite the overall slanderous nature towards African Americans, were able to aid in the creation of this new form. It included more instruments, vocals and dancing than the previous blues tradition. Blues artist like Bessie Smith in Put it Right Here or Keep It Out There were presenting an unspoken story to Americans who have not heard of or had ignored. He makes the distinction between blues which he ties to slavery and ragtime which he claims to have more European musical ties. Amiri Baraka notes that this more classic blues created more instrumental opportunities for African Americans, but on the other hand instruments like the piano were the last to incorporate and had a much more free spirited melody than the other instruments or compared to ragtime. Even with this new sounds and structure, some classic blues icons remained out of the popular music scene.

The City

The “Negroes” were moving to the city from the south for jobs and freedom; a chance to begin again. This, also known as a “human movement,” made jazz and classical blues possible. They worked the hardest and got paid the least. Ford played an important role with their transition because they were one of the first companies to allow African Americans to work for them. They even created the first car that was available for purchase for African Americans Blues first began as a “functional” music, only needed to communicate and encourage work in the fields, but soon emerged into something more. The blues music became entertaining. It was morphed into what was called “the ‘race’ record,” which was recordings of the music that were targeted towards African Americans. Mamie Smith is the first African American to have made a commercial recording. It was supposed to be Miss Tucker, but she was unable to attend because she was sick. After that, that “jazz age” began, or otherwise known “age of recorded blues.” Pretty soon, African American musicians began being signed with thousands of copies sold. Their music began to spread all over. They even began hiring African Americans as talent scouts to find the best new talent. To much surprise, African Americans became the new consumer in a predominately white culture. Blues went from a small work sound to a nation-wide phenomenon. Musicians in New York were much different than the ones in Chicago, St. Louis, Texas and New Orleans, the music of performers of the east had a ragtime style and wasn't original, but eventually the real blues was absorbed in the east. People were only really able to hear the blues and real jazz in the gut-bucket cabarets, which basically means anything really down low, and lower class. World War 1 was a time where the Negroes became mainstream in American life Negroes were welcomed into the services, in their special black units. After World War 1, there was many race riots in America and at this time the Negroes started to think of the inequality as objective and "evil." Because of this, many groups were formed, like Marcus Garvey's black nationalist organization, and also other groups that had already been around, like the NAACP became popular again. Another type of blues music that came to the cities was called "boogie boogie," which was a blend of vocal blues and early guitar techniques, adapted for the piano and was also referred to as a music of rhythmic contrasts instead of melodic of harmonic variations. On the weekends, hundreds of Negroes would go to "blue light parties and there would be a few pianist at each and they would take turns playing while people would "grind." In 1929, the depression left over 14 million people unemployed and Negroes suffered most. This ruined the blues era; most night clubs and cabarets closed and the recording industry was destroyed. There are three events that were known to shape the present day American Negro, which included, World War 1, The Great Depression, and World War 2. But let us not forget the fact of the Negroes moving to the cities because that is why those three world events played such a meaningful role to the Negroes.

Enter the Middle Class

"The movement, the growing feeling that developed among Negroes, was led and fattened by the growing black middle class".[2]

In chapter 9, Baraka's focus is on the cause and effect of the black middle class in the North. Negroes who held positions, such as house servants, freedmen and church officials, were seen as having a more privileged status among Negroes of this time. These individuals embodied the bulk of the black middle class. Although Negroes attempted to salvage their culture in the North, it was impossible to be free of the influence of "White America," furthermore drowning Negroes' past. The black middle class both responded and reacted to this by believing their culture should be completely forgotten, trying to erase their past and culture completely to be able to fit in. This, in turn, contributed to the growing support for cutting off Southerners in order to have a life in America. This divided and separated Blacks, physically and mentally. All in all, the black middle class' attempt to fit into the America around them, caused them to conform their own Black culture, to the white culture that surrounded them. Not only did they attempt to change music, but media such as paintings, drama and literature changed, as a result of this attempt to assimilate to the culture around them.

Swing--from Verb to Noun

In this chapter, Baraka illustrates the importance of Negro artist to be a “quality” black man instead of a mere “ordinary nigger”. Novelists such as Charles Chesnutt, Otis Shackleford, Sutton Griggs, Pauline Hopkins demonstrated the idea of social classes within the black race in literature, similar to that of the “novel of their models”, the white middle class. The separation created within the group gave a voice to the house servant. As the country became more liberal, in the early twenties, Negroes were becoming the predominant urban population in the North, and there was the emergence of the “New Negro”. This was the catalyst for the beginning of the “Negro Renaissance”. The Negro middle class mindset changed from the idea of separation, which was the “slave mentality”, into “race pride” and “race consciousness”, and that Negroes deserve equality. The “Harlem School” of writers strived to glorify black America as real a production force, comparable to white America. These writer’s included Carl Van Vechten and his novel, “Nigger Heaven”. Since the Emancipation, the black man’s adaptation to American life had been based on a growing and developing understand of the white man’s mind. In the book, Baraka illustrates the growing separation, in New Orleans between the Creoles, gens de couleur, and mulattoes. This separation was encouraged as a way to emulate the white French culture of New Orleans. Repressive segregation laws forced the “light people” into relationships with the black culture and this began the merging of black rhythmic and vocal tradition with European dance and march music. The first jazzmen were from the white Creole tradition and also the darker blues tradition. The music was the first fully developed American experience of “classic” blues.

In the second half of chapter 10 Amiri Baraka breaks down the similarities and differences between two jazz stars: Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke. "The incredible irony of the situation was that both stood in similar places in the superstructure of American society: Beiderbecke, because of the isolation any deviation from mass culture imposed upon its bearer; and Armstrong, because of the socio-historical estrangement of the Negro from the rest of America. Nevertheless, the music the two made was as dissimilar as is possible within jazz." [3] He goes on to draw a distinction between what he identifies as Beiderbecke's 'white jazz' and Armstrong's jazz, which he sees as being "securely within the traditions of Afro-American music. Moreover, Baraka's broader critique of the place of Negro music in America is emphasized when he claims sarcastically, despite Beiderbecke's white jazz being essentially "Antithetical" to Armstrong's, that "Afro-American music did not become a completely American expression until the white man could play it!".[4] Baraka then goes on to chart the historical development of Armstrong's music as it became influenced by his performances and recordings with the Hot Five. He notes that though previous jazz bands were focused on an aesthetic based on a flexible group improvisation, Armstrong's presence in the Hot Five changed the dynamic of play and composition. Instead of a cohesive "communal" unit, the other members followed Armstrong's lead and therefore, he claims, the music made by the Hot Five became "Louis Armstrong's music.".[5]

Baraka goes on to write about the rise of the Solo jazz artist and specifically Armstrong's influence on the tendencies and styles of Jazz bands all over. His 'brass music' was the predecessor to the reed instrument music that would follow. He writes about the bands playing in the 20s and 30s and how the biggest and best of them were run and organized by predominately college educated black men. These men worked for years to grow the music and integrate new waves of style as much as they could without sacrificing the elements that were so important to the identity of the music. Furthermore, Baraka writes about Duke Ellington's influence being similar in magnitude to Armstrong's but in a different way. He sees Ellington as perfecting the "orchestral" version of an expressive Big Band unit, while maintaining its jazz roots.

After this, much of the white middle class culture adopted a taste for this new big band music that had the attitude and authenticity of the older black music but was modified, in part, to suit the modern symphony-going listener. This started transforming into the well-known Swing music. When there became a market for this particular taste, white bands started trying to appropriate the style for the sake of performance and reaching broader audiences (a testament to the growing influence and significance of the Negro music movement). Unfortunately, Baraka points out, with the explosion in popularity, the industry for recording and producing music of this kind became somewhat monopolized by wealthy white record labels and producers, and there ended up being widespread discrimination against black performers, even after the label would pay good money for the original score written by someone else. This discrimination was evident too in the subsequent alienation of many Negro listeners, who became turned off by the appropriation and new mainstream success of what they felt and saw as their own music.

The Blues Continuum

jazz bands had begun to replace traditional blues which had begun to move to the underground music scene. South-western "shouting" blues singers developed into a style called rhythm and blues which was largely huge rhythm units smashing away behind screaming blues singers. The performance of the artists became just as important as the performance of the songs. Rhythm and blues, despite its growth in popularity, remained a "Black" form of music that had not yet reached the level of commercialism where it would be popular in the White community. The more instrumental Rhythm and Blues use of large instruments complemented the traditional vocal style of classic blues. It however differed from traditional blues by having more erratic,louder percussion and brass sections to accompany the increased volume of the vocals. Rhythm and Blues had developed into a style that integrated mainstream without being mainstream. With its rebellious style, Rhythm and Blues contrasted the mainstream "soft" nature of Swing with its loud percussion and brass sections, and because of its distinctive style remained a predominantly "Black" form of music that catered to an African American audience. There was divide however between the middle class of African Americans, who had settled upon mainstream swing and the lower, who still had a taste for traditional country blues. Over time, the mainstream sounds of swing became embedded so far into Rhythm and Blues that it became indistinguishable from its country blues roots and into a commercialized style.

The Modern Scene

As white Americans adopted styles of Blues and adopted this new expression of music, Jazz became the more accepted "American" music which related to a broader audience and could also have been accepted for commercial use. Through this evolution of Blues into Jazz and this idea that Jazz could be more socially diverse and appeal to a broader range of Americans, Blues started to become less appreciated while Jazz represented the "true expression of an American which could be celebrated." Copying the oppressive ideas that segregated the people between white and black Blues was devalued and the assimilation of both African Americans and their music into being considered “American culture” was next to impossible. As years went on there was a neglect to see that the more popular mainstream sounds of swing and Jazz and “white people’s” wartime entertainment was a result from the black-American tradition, Blues created by the very people that America was trying so hard to oppress. In efforts to try to re-create their own sound once more and create their own culture of music, they began with their roots of Blues and evolved their sounds of the past into a new sound called bebop.

Notes and references

Jump up ^ New York: William Morrow & Company, 1963. ISBN 0-688-18474-X
Jump up ^ Baraka, Amiri (1999). Blues People: Negro Music in White America. Harper Perennial. p. 123. ISBN 978-0688184742.
Jump up ^ Baraka, Amiri (1999). Blues People: Negro Music in White America. Harper Perennial. p. 154. ISBN 978-0688184742.
Jump up ^ Baraka, Amiri (1999). Blues People: Negro Music in White America. Harper Perennial. p. 155. ISBN 978-0688184742.
Jump up ^ Baraka, Amiri (1999). Blues People: Negro Music in White America. Harper Perennial. p. 156. ISBN 978-0688184742.



(Originally posted on January 2, 2010):

Saturday, January 2, 2010

MONK, BARAKA, AND KELLEY: The Joyous Confluence of Great Music & Great Writing

From: The Independent Ear
Nov 17, 2009






Robin D.G. Kelley, author of the exhaustively-researched and superb new Thelonious Monk biography Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of An American Original (Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster), contributed the following piece to the recent 75th birthday commemoration for Amiri Baraka. He granted re-print permission to The Independent Ear. Read Robin’s contribution to our ongoing dialogue between African American music writers: Ain’t But a Few of Us by clicking on the month of October.

b. 1962

What Amiri Baraka Taught Me About Thelonious Monk
by Robin D.G. Kelley

"Monk was my main man."
— Amiri Baraka

I just spent the past fourteen years of my life researching and writing a biography of pianist/composer Thelonious Monk, and over thirty years attempting to play his music. My obsession with Monk can be traced back to many things and many people, but paramount among them is Amiri Baraka. Let me explain.

My path to "jazz" began like so many others of my generation who came of age in the late 1970s — with the funky commercial fusions of Grover Washington, Jr., Bob James, Patrice Rushen, Earl Klugh, Ronnie Laws, through Stanley Clarke and Chick Corea. But inexplicably, at the tender age of seventeen or eighteen I took a giant leap directly into the so-called "avant-garde", or the New Thing. By 1980, the New Thing wasn’t so new (and as Baraka and others have shown us, it wasn’t so new in the 1960s), but the music appealed to my rebellious attitude, my faux sense of sophistication, and to the way I heard the piano. As a young neophyte piano player and sometimes bassist, my heroes became Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, late ‘Trane, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, those cats. I knew almost nothing about bebop, nor could I name anyone in Ellington’s orchestra except for Duke. I just thought free jazz was the beginning and end of all "real" music. My stepfather introduced me to Charlie Parker, Monk, Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon, but I wasn’t yet ready to fully appreciate bebop. Then in one of my many excursions to "Acres and Acres of Books" in Long Beach, California, I picked up two used paperbacks by one LeRoi Jones: Blues People and Black Music.

I dove into Black Music first. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a thoughtful piece on Monk in a book that I understood then to be a collection of essays primarily about the "New Thing." Don’t get me wrong; I dug Monk from the first listen. I had heard an LP recorded live at the Five Spot Cafe with Monk and tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin. I wore it out, especially their rendition of Monk’s "Evidence". But Monk wasn’t part of the jazz avant-garde. He was already an old man when Ornette Coleman made his debut, or so I thought. Baraka’s Black Music corrected me, schooling me on the roots and branches of free jazz. Between his piece on "Recent Monk," his brilliant treatise, "The Changing Same (R&B and the New Black Music)," and several other pieces on white critics and the jazz avant-garde, I began to hear Monk and "free jazz" quite differently. It was Baraka who dubbed the jazz avant-garde the "New Black Music," insisting that it emerged directly out of a Black tradition, bebop, as opposed to the Third Stream experiements of Gunther Schuller, Lee Konitz, and Lennie Tristano. While Black musicians might have milked Western classical traditions for definitions and solutions to the "engineering" problems of contemporary jazz, Europe is not the source. "[J]azz and blues," he writes, "are Western musics; products of an Afro-American culture."

Of the few hundred times I listened to Monk, Johnny Griffin, drummer Roy Haynes, and bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik tear the roof off the Five Spot, I probably heard Baraka, shouting his approval and urging them on from his table near the bandstand. It was August of 1958 and Baraka (when he was still LeRoi Jones) had been an East Village resident for the past year. He became a Five Spot regular when Coltrane was with Monk in the summer and fall of 1957. His constant presence gave him unique insights into Monk’s music and the challenges it created for the musicians who played with him. Indeed, Baraka was one of the few critics to admit that "opening night [Coltrane] was struggling with all the tunes." Baraka just didn’t come to dig the music, he studied Monk.

In fact, he was arguably the first American critic, along with Martin Williams, to really understand what Monk was doing and why a new generation of self-described avant-garde musicians was drawn to Monk’s music and his ideas. By the time Baraka entered the fray, most critics had either dismissed Monk for having no technique or formal training as a pianist, or they praised him for his eccentricity and inventiveness precisely for his lack of technique or formal training. For Baraka, the whole issue of Monk’s technique was nonsense: "I want to explain technical so as not to be confused with people who think that Thelonious Monk is ‘a fine pianist, but limited technically.’ But by technical, I mean more specifically being able to use what important ideas are contained in the residue of history or in the now-swell of living. For instance, to be able to double time Liszt piano pieces might help one become a musician, but it will not make a man aware of the fact that Monk was a greater composer than Liszt. And it is the consciousness, on whatever level, of facts, ideas, etc., like this that are the most important parts of technique."

While Baraka’s fellow Beat generation writers embraced Monk because they heard spontaneous, instinctual feeling and emotion as opposed to intellect, Baraka saw no such opposition; he was careful not to divorce consciousness and intellect from emotion. He writes, "The roots, blues and bop, are emotion. The technique, the ideas, the way of handling the emotion. And this does not leave out the consideration that certainly there is pure intellect that can come out of the emotional experience and the rawest emotions that can proceed from the ideal apprehension of any hypothesis." Like his insights about Monk’s technique, the point underscored Baraka’s general claim that bebop was roots music, no matter how deep the imperative for experimentation, because it carries deep emotions, historical and personal. The music of the Blues People.

And if Thelonious Monk was anything, he was Blues People. Born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, the grandson of enslaved Africans, delivered by a midwife who was thirteen when Emancipation Day came, Monk was raised by parents who grew up picking cotton and survived on odd jobs and cleaning white folks’ homes. His mother brought Thelonious and his two siblings to New York in search of a better life, and while they enjoyed more opportunities the Monks settled in the poor, predominantly black neighborhood of San Juan Hill (West 63rd Street, Manhattan). Thelonious grew up listening to the blues, jazz, the rhythms of calypso and merengue, hymns and gospel music (he spent two years traveling through the Midwest with an evangelist). His mother Barbara, scrubbed floors to pay for his classical piano lessons, and Monk continued his studies under the tutelage of the great Harlem stride pianists of the day. Monk told pianist Billy Taylor "that Willie "The Lion’ and those guys that had shown him respect had… ‘empowered’ him… to do his own thing. That he could do it and that his thing is worth doing. It doesn’t sound like Tatum. It doesn’t sound like Willie ‘The Lion’. It doesn’t sound like anybody but Monk and this is what he wanted to do. He had the confidence. The way that he does those things is the way he wanted to do them."

Willie ‘The Lion’ never mentions Thelonious in his memoirs, but he described the all-night cutting sessions which sharpened Monk’s piano skills: "Sometimes we got carving battles going that would last for four or five hours. Here’s how these bashes worked: the Lion would pound the keys for a mess of choruses and then shout to the next in line, ‘Well, all right, take it from there,’ and each tickler would take his turn, trying to improve on a melody… We would embroider the melodies with our own original ideas and try to develop patterns that had more originality than those played before us. Sometimes it was just a question as to who could think up the most patterns within a given tune. It was pure improvisation." A later generation of bebop pianists would often be accused of one-handedness; their right hands flew along with melodies and improvisations, while their "weak" left hands just plunked chords. A weak left hand was one of Smith’s pet peeves among the younger bebop piano players. "Today the big problem is no one wants to work their left hand — modern jazz is full of single-handed piano players. It takes long hours of practice and concentration to perfect a good bass moving with the left hand and it seems as though the younger cats have figured they can reach their destination without paying their dues."

Teddy Wilson, though only five years older than Monk but considered a master tickler of the swing generation, had nothing but praise for Thelonious’s piano playing. "Thelonious Monk knew my playing very well, as well as that of Tatum, [Earl] Hines, and [Fats] Waller. He was exceedingly well-grounded in the piano players who preceded him, adding his own originality to a very sound foundation." Indeed, it was this very foundation that exposed him to techniques and aesthetic principles that would become essential qualities of his own music. He heard players "bend" nots on the piano, or turn the beat around (the bass note on the one and three might be reversed to two and four, either accidentally or deliberately), or create dissonant harmonies with "splattered notes" and chord clusters. He heard things in those parlor rooms and basement joints that, to modern ears, sounded avant-garde. They loved to disorient listeners, to displace the rhythm by playing in front or behind the beat, to produce surprising sounds that can throw listeners momentarily off track. Monk embraced these elements in his own playing and exaggerated them.

Finally, Baraka was one of the first critics to predict that Monk’s long awaited success in the early 1960s might negatively impact his music. Indeed, this was the point of his essay, "Recent Monk." Thelonious’s fan base had expanded considerably after he signed with Columbia Records, made a couple of international tours, and appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1964. But Baraka noted that Monk’s quartet, like so many successful groups, began to fall into a routine that sometimes dulled the band’s sense of adventure. Baraka warned, "once [an artist] had made it safely to the ‘top,’ [he] either stopped putting out or began to imitate himself so dreadfully that early records began to have more value than new records or in-person appearances… So Monk, someone might think taking a quick glance, has really been set up for something bad to happen to his playing." To some degree, Baraka thought this was already happening and he placed much of the blame on his sidemen. Of course, Monk hired great musicians during this period — Charlie Rouse (tenor sax), bassists Butch Warren and Larry Gales, and drummers Frankie Dunlap and Ben Riley. But the repertoire remained pretty much the same, and the fire slowly dissipated. Monk himself continued to play remarkably, but there was an element of predictability that overrode all the amazing things he was doing. "{S}ometimes," Baraka lamented, "one wishes Monk’s group wasn’t so polished and impeccable, and that he had some musicians with him who would be willing to extend themselves a little further, dig a little deeper into the music and get out there somewhere near where Monk is, and where his compositions always point to."

Baraka never gave up on Monk, and while I can’t prove it I suspect Monk’s music continues to have a strong philosophical and aesthetic influence on both his literary and political work. But more than anything, I will always be grateful to Baraka for helping me discover Monk, for revealing that Monk’s rootedness in this history, in family, in tradition explains why his music, as modern as it is, can sound like it’s a century old. It explains why he always remained a stride pianist; why his repertoire was peppered with sacred classics like "Blessed Assurance" and "We’ll Understand it Better, By and By"; and why the careful listeners can hear in Monk’s whole-tone runs, forearm clusters, unusual tempos and spaces, shouts, field hollers, the rhythm of a slow moving train, rent parties, mourners, children playing stickball and marbles, and the Good Humor or Mr. Softee truck on a summer evening.

Like most scholars and other voyeurs, we are always listening for, and looking at, art for personal tragedy rather than collective memory, collective histories. Amiri Baraka understood the fallacy of this approach. Perhaps this is why he writes in the poem "Funk Lore" (one of several associated with Monk):

That’s why we are the blues
That’s why we
Are the

It should be noted that the source of the various passages from Baraka’s writings on Monk, as well as the interview segments and book passages Mr. Kelley quotes in this appreciation of Amiri Baraka are meticulously footnoted — as they are in Kelley’s exhaustively-researched book. For the sake of webzine brevity we elected not to include Robin’s footnotes and source materials… and also to urge you to run out and purchase your copy of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of An American Original… and do that with a quickness!

Referencing this special book, here’s a passage on Ellington’s sense of Thelonious (chapter 10, p. 138) during a time when Monk and his music were widely misunderstood, or dismissed as some sort of hopeless eccentric by musicians, critics, and the listening public:

"During the summer of 1948, while Duke Ellington’s band was traveling by train in the southern coast of England, trumpter Ray Nance decided to pass the time away by listening to records on a little portable phonography he had picked up. "I put on one of my Thelonious Monk records. Duke was passing by in the corridor, and he stopped and asked ‘Who’s that playing?’ I told him. ‘Sounds like he’s stealing some of my stuff,’ he said. So he sat down and listened to my records, and he was very interested. He understood what Monk was doing."

Posted by Kofi Natambu at 12:29 AM
Labels: Amiri Baraka, Jazz criticism, Jazz history, Robin D. G. Kelley, Thelonious Monk, Thelonious MonK:An American Original

Amiri Baraka
b. 1934

Amiri Baraka was born LeRoi Jones in 1934 in Newark, New Jersey. He attended Rutgers University and Howard University, spent three years in the U.S. Air Force, and returned to New York City to attend Columbia University and the New School for Social Research. Baraka has become most known for his strident social criticism, often writing in an incendiary style that has made it difficult for some audiences and critics to respond with objectivity to his works. Throughout his career his method in poetry, drama, fiction, and essays has been confrontational, calculated to shock and awaken audiences to the political concerns of black Americans. Baraka’s own political stance has changed several times, thus dividing his oeuvre into periods: as a member of the avant-garde during the 1950s, Baraka—writing as Leroi Jones—was associated with Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac; in the ‘60s, he moved to Harlem and became a Black Nationalist; in the ‘70s, he was involved in third-world liberation movements and identified as a Marxist. More recently, Baraka has been accused of anti-Semitism for his poem “Somebody Blew up America,” written in response to the September 11 attacks.

Baraka has incited controversy throughout his career. He is praised for speaking out against oppression as well as accused of fostering hate. Critical opinion has been sharply divided between those who agree, with Dissent contributor Stanley Kaufman, that Baraka’s race and political moment have created his celebrity, and those who feel that Baraka stands among the most important writers of the twentieth century. In the American Book Review, Arnold Rampersad counted Baraka with Phyllis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison “as one of the eight figures . . . who have significantly affected the course of African-American literary culture.”

Baraka did not always identify with radical politics, nor did his writing always court controversy. During the 1950s Baraka lived in Greenwich Village, befriending Beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, and Gilbert Sorrentino. The white avant-garde—primarily Ginsberg, O’Hara, and leader of the Black Mountain poets Charles Olson—and Baraka believed in poetry as a process of discovery rather than an exercise in fulfilling traditional expectations. Baraka, like the projectivist poets, believed that a poem’s form should follow the shape determined by the poet’s own breath and intensity of feeling. In 1958 Baraka founded Yugen magazine and Totem Press, important forums for new verse. His first play, A Good Girl Is Hard to Find, was produced at Sterington House in Montclair, New Jersey, that same year. Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, Baraka’s first published collection of poems appeared in 1961. M. L. Rosenthal wrote in The New Poets: American and British Poetry since World War II that these poems show Baraka’s “natural gift for quick, vivid imagery and spontaneous humor.” Rosenthal also praised the “sardonic or sensuous or slangily knowledgeable passages” that fill the early poems. While the cadence of blues and many allusions to black culture are found in the poems, the subject of blackness does not predominate. Throughout, rather, the poet shows his integrated, Bohemian social roots. The book’s last line is “You are / as any other sad man here / american.”

With the rise of the civil rights movement Baraka’s works took on a more militant tone. His trip to Cuba in 1959 marked an important turning point in his life. His view of his role as a writer, the purpose of art, and the degree to which ethnic awareness deserved to be his subject changed dramatically. In Cuba he met writers and artists from third world countries whose political concerns included the fight against poverty, famine, and oppressive governments. In Home: Social Essays (1966), Baraka explains how he tried to defend himself against their accusations of self-indulgence, and was further challenged by Jaime Shelley, a Mexican poet, who said, “‘In that ugliness you live in, you want to cultivate your soul? Well, we’ve got millions of starving people to feed, and that moves me enough to make poems out of.’” Soon Baraka began to identify with third world writers and to write poems and plays with strong political messages.

Dutchman, a play of entrapment in which a white woman and a middle-class black man both express their murderous hatred on a subway, was first performed Off-Broadway in 1964. While other dramatists of the time were wedded to naturalism, Baraka used symbolism and other experimental techniques to enhance the play’s emotional impact. The play established Baraka’s reputation as a playwright and has been often anthologized and performed. It won the Village Voice Obie Award in 1964 and was later made into a film. The plays and poems following Dutchman express Baraka’s increasing disappointment with white America and his growing need to separate from it. Critics observed that as Baraka’s poems became more politically intense, they left behind some of the flawless technique of the earlier poems. Richard Howard wrote of The Dead Lecturer (1964) in the Nation: “These are the agonized poems of a man writing to save his skin, or at least to settle in it, and so urgent is their purpose that not one of them can trouble to be perfect.”

To make a clean break with the Beat influence, Baraka turned to writing fiction in the mid-1960s, penning The System of Dante’s Hell (1965), a novel, and Tales (1967), a collection of short stories. The stories are “‘fugitive narratives’ that describe the harried flight of an intensely self-conscious Afro-American artist/intellectual from neo-slavery of blinding, neutralizing whiteness, where the area of struggle is basically within the mind,” Robert Elliot Fox wrote in Conscientious Sorcerers: The Black Postmodernist Fiction of LeRoi Jones/Baraka, Ishmael Reed, and Samuel R. Delany. The role of violent action in achieving political change is more prominent in these stories, as is the role of music in black life.

In addition to his poems, novels and politically-charged essays, Baraka is a noted writer of music criticism. His classic history Blues People: Negro Music in White America (1963) traces black music from slavery to contemporary jazz. Finding indigenous black art forms was important to Baraka in the ‘60s, as he was searching for a more authentic voice for his own poetry. Baraka became known as an articulate jazz critic and a perceptive observer of social change. As Clyde Taylor stated in Amiri Baraka: The Kaleidoscopic Torch, “The connection he nailed down between the many faces of black music, the sociological sets that nurtured them, and their symbolic evolutions through socio-economic changes, in Blues People, is his most durable conception, as well as probably the one most indispensable thing said about black music.” Baraka also published the important studies Black Music (1968) and The Music: Reflections on Jazz and Blues (1987). Lloyd W. Brown commented in Amiri Baraka that Baraka’s essays on music are flawless: “As historian, musicological analyst, or as a journalist covering a particular performance Baraka always commands attention because of his obvious knowledge of the subject and because of a style that is engaging and persuasive even when the sentiments are questionable and controversial.”

After Black Muslim leader Malcolm X was killed in 1965, Baraka moved to Harlem and founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School. The Black Arts Movement helped develop a new aesthetic for black art and Baraka was its primary theorist. Black American artists should follow “black,” not “white” standards of beauty and value, he maintained, and should stop looking to white culture for validation. The black artist’s role, he wrote in Home: Social Essays (1966), is to “aid in the destruction of America as he knows it.” Foremost in this endeavor was the imperative to portray society and its ills faithfully so that the portrayal would move people to take necessary corrective action. Baraka published the collection Black Magic in 1967. The poems chronicle his divorce from white culture and values while displaying his mastery of poetic technique. There was no doubt that Baraka’s political concerns superseded his just claims to literary excellence, and critics struggled to respond to the political content of the works. Some felt the best art must be apolitical and dismissed Baraka’s newer work as “a loss to literature.” Kenneth Rexroth wrote in With Eye and Ear that Baraka “has succumbed to the temptation to become a professional Race Man of the most irresponsible sort. . . . His loss to literature is more serious than any literary casualty of the Second War.” In 1966 Bakara moved back to Newark, New Jersey, and a year later changed his name to the Bantuized Muslim appellation Imamu (“spiritual leader,” later dropped) Ameer (later Amiri, “blessed”) Baraka (“prince”).

By the early 1970s Baraka was recognized as an influential African-American writer. Randall noted in Black World that younger black poets Nikki Giovanni and Don L. Lee (later Haki R. Madhubuti) were “learning from LeRoi Jones, a man versed in German philosophy, conscious of literary tradition . . . who uses the structure of Dante’s Divine Comedy in his System of Dante’s Hell and the punctuation, spelling and line divisions of sophisticated contemporary poets.” More importantly, Arnold Rampersad wrote in the American Book Review, “More than any other black poet . . . he taught younger black poets of the generation past how to respond poetically to their lived experience, rather than to depend as artists on embalmed reputations and outmoded rhetorical strategies derived from a culture often substantially different from their own.”

After coming to see Black Nationalism as a destructive form of racism, Baraka denounced it in 1974 and became a third world socialist. He produced a number of Marxist poetry collections and plays in the ‘70s that reflected his newly adopted political goals. Critics contended that works like the essays collected in Daggers and Javelins (1984) lack the emotional power of the works from his Black Nationalist period. However, Joe Weixlmann, in Amiri Baraka: The Kaleidoscopic Torch, argued against the tendency to categorize the radical Baraka instead of analyze him: “At the very least, dismissing someone with a label does not make for very satisfactory scholarship. Initially, Baraka’s reputation as a writer and thinker derived from a recognition of the talents with which he is so obviously endowed. The subsequent assaults on that reputation have, too frequently, derived from concerns which should be extrinsic to informed criticism.”

In more recent years, recognition of Baraka’s impact on late twentieth-century American culture has resulted in the publication of several anthologies of his literary oeuvre. The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader (1999) presents a thorough overview of the writer’s development, covering the period from 1957 to 1983. The volume presents Baraka’s work from four different periods and emphasizes lesser-known works rather than the author’s most famous writings. 

Transbluency: The Selected Poems of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (1961-1995), published in 1995, was hailed by Daniel L. Guillory in Library Journal as “critically important.” And Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, commended the “lyric boldness of this passionate collection.” Kamau Brathwaite described Baraka’s 2004 collection, Somebody Blew up America & Other Poems, as “one more mark in modern Black radical and revolutionary cultural reconstruction.” The book contains Baraka’s controversial poem of the same name, which he wrote as New Jersey’s poet laureate. After the poem’s publication, public outcry became so great that the governor of New Jersey took action to abolish the position. Baraka sued, though the United States Court of Appeals eventually ruled that state officials were immune from such charges.

Baraka’s legacy as a major poet of the second half of the twentieth century remains matched by his importance as a cultural and political leader. His influence on younger writers has been significant and widespread, and as a leader of the Black Arts movement of the 1960s Baraka did much to define and support black literature’s mission into the next century. His experimental fiction of the 1960s is still considered some of the most significant African-American fiction since that of Jean Toomer. Writers from other ethnic groups have credited Baraka with opening “tightly guarded doors” in the white publishing establishment, noted Murice Kenney in Amiri Baraka: The Kaleidoscopic Torch, who added: “We’d all still be waiting the invitation from the New Yorker without him. He taught us how to claim it and take it.”

(Biography updated by the Poetry Foundation, 2009)


State University of New York at Stony Brook, assistant professor, 1980-83, associate professor, 1983-85, professor of African studies, 1985—, professor emeritus. Instructor, New School for Social Research (now New School University), New York, NY, 1962-64; visiting professor, University of Buffalo, summer, 1964, Columbia University, fall, 1964, and 1966-67, San Francisco State University, 1967, Yale University, 1977-78, George Washington University, 1978-79, and Rutgers University, 1988. Founded Yugen magazine and Totem Press, 1958; co-editor and founder of Floating Bar magazine, 1961-63; editor of Black Nation. Founder and director, Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School, 1964-66; director of Spirit House (black community theater; also known as Heckalu Community Center), 1965-75, and head of advisory group at Treat Elementary School, both in Newark; Kimako Blues People (community arts space), co-director. Founder, Congress of African People, 1970-76. Member, Political Prisoners Relief Fund, and African Liberation Day Commission. Candidate, Newark community council, 1968. National Black Political Assembly, former secretary general and co-governor; National Black United Front, member; Congress of African People, co-founder and chair; League of Revolutionary Struggle, member.



(Under name LeRoi Jones)

A Good Girl Is Hard to Find, produced in Montclair, NJ, 1958.
(Under name LeRoi Jones) Dante (one act; excerpted from novel The System of Dante’s Hell; also see below), produced in New York, NY, 1961, produced as The Eighth Ditch, 1964.
(Under name LeRoi Jones) Dutchman (also see below; produced Off-Broadway, 1964; produced in London, 1967), Faber & Faber (London, England), 1967.
(Under name LeRoi Jones) The Baptism: A Comedy in One Act (also see below; produced Off-Broadway, 1964, produced in London), Sterling Lord, 1966.
(Under name LeRoi Jones) The Toilet (also see below; produced with The Slave: A Fable Off-Broadway, 1964), Sterling Lord, 1964.
Dutchman [and] The Slave: A Fable, Morrow (New York, NY), 1964.

(Under name LeRoi Jones)

J-E-L-L-O (one act comedy; also see below; produced in New York, NY, by Black Arts Repertory Theatre, 1965), Third World Press, 1970.

(Under name LeRoi Jones)

Experimental Death Unit #1 (one act; also see below), produced Off-Broadway, 1965.
(Under name LeRoi Jones) The Death of Malcolm X (one act; produced in Newark, NJ, 1965), published in New Plays from the Black Theatre, edited by Ed Bullins, Bantam (New York, NY), 1969.

(Under name LeRoi Jones)

A Black Mass (also see below), produced in Newark, NJ, 1966.
Slave Ship (also see below; produced as Slave Ship: A Historical Pageant at Spirit House, 1967; produced in New York, NY, 1969), Jihad, 1967.
Madheart: Morality Drama (one act; also see below), produced at San Francisco State College, 1967.
Arm Yourself, or Harm Yourself, A One-Act Play (also see below; produced at Spirit House, 1967), Jihad, 1967.
Great Goodness of Life (A Coon Show) (one act; also see below), produced at Spirit House, 1967; produced Off-Broadway at Tambellini’s Gate Theater, 1969.
The Baptism [and] The Toilet, Grove (New York, NY), 1967.
Home on the Range (one act comedy; also see below), produced at Spirit House, 1968; produced in New York, NY, 1968.
Junkies Are Full of SHHH... , produced at Spirit House, 1968; produced with Bloodrites (also see below), Off-Broadway, 1970.
Board of Education (children’s play), produced at Spirit House, 1968.
Resurrection in Life (one-act pantomime), produced as Insurrection in Harlem, NY, 1969.
Four Black Revolutionary Plays: All Praises to the Black Man (contains Experimental Death Unit #1, A Black Mass, Great Goodness of Life (A Coon Show), and Madheart), Bobbs-Merrill (New York, NY), 1969.
Black Dada Nihilism (one act), produced Off-Broadway, 1971.
A Recent Killing (three acts), produced Off-Broadway, 1973.
Columbia the Gem of the Ocean, produced in Washington, DC, 1973.
The New Ark’s A-Moverin, produced in Newark, NJ, 1974.
The Sidnee Poet Heroical, in Twenty-nine Scenes (one act comedy; also see below; produced Off-Broadway, 1975), Reed & Cannon, 1979.
S-1: A Play with Music (also see below), produced in New York, NY, 1976.
(With Frank Chin and Leslie Siko) America More or Less (musical), produced in San Francisco, CA, 1976.
The Motion of History (four-act; also see below), produced in New York, NY, 1977.
The Motion of History and Other Plays (contains Slave Ship and S-1), Morrow (New York, NY), 1978.
What Was the Relationship of the Lone Ranger to the Means of Production? (one-act; also see below; produced in New York, NY, 1979 ), Anti-Imperialist Cultural Union, 1978.
Dim Cracker Party Convention, produced in New York, NY, 1980.
Boy and Tarzan Appear in a Clearing, produced Off-Broadway, 1981.
Money: Jazz Opera, produced Off-Broadway, 1982.
Song: A One-Act Play about the Relationship of Art to Real Life, produced in Jamaica, NY, 1983.
General Hag’s Skeezag, 1992.
Also author of plays Police, published in Drama Review, summer, 1968; Rockgroup, published in Cricket, December, 1969; Black Power Chant, published in Drama Review, December, 1972; The Coronation of the Black Queen, published in Black Scholar, June, 1970; Vomit and the Jungle Bunnies, Revolt of the Moonflowers, 1969, Primitive World, 1991, Jackpot Melting, 1996, Election Machine Warehouse, 1996, Meeting Lillie, 1997, Biko, 1997, and Black Renaissance in Harlem, 1998.

Plays included in anthologies, including Woodie King and Ron Milner, editors, Black Drama Anthology (includes Bloodrites and Junkies Are Full of SHHH . . .), New American Library, 1971; and Rochelle Owens, editor, Spontaneous Combustion: Eight New American Plays (includes Ba-Ra-Ka), Winter House, 1972.


Dutchman, Gene Persson Enterprises, Ltd., 1967.
Black Spring, Jihad Productions, 1968.
A Fable (based on The Slave: A Fable), MFR Productions, 1971.
Supercoon, Gene Persson Enterprises, Ltd., 1971.


April 13 (broadside), Penny Poems (New Haven, CT), 1959.
Spring and So Forth (broadside), Penny Poems (New Haven, CT), 1960.
Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, Totem/Corinth, 1961.
The Disguise (broadside), (New Haven, CT), 1961.
The Dead Lecturer (also see below), Grove (New York, NY), 1964.
Black Art (also see below), Jihad, 1966.
Black Magic (also see below), Morrow (New York, NY), 1967.
A Poem for Black Hearts, Broadside Press, 1967.
Black Magic: Sabotage; Target Study; Black Art; Collected Poetry, 1961-1967, Bobbs-Merrill (New York, NY), 1969.
It’s Nation Time, Third World Press, 1970.
Spirit Reach, Jihad, 1972.
Afrikan Revolution, Jihad, 1973.
Hard Facts: Excerpts, People’s War, 1975, 2nd edition, Revolutionary Communist League, 1975.
Spring Song, Baraka, 1979.
AM/TRAK, Phoenix Bookshop, 1979.
Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (includes “Poetry for the Advanced”), Morrow (New York, NY), 1979.
In the Tradition: For Black Arthur Blythe, Jihad, 1980.
Reggae or Not!, Contact Two, 1982.
LeRoi Jones—Amiri, Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1991.
Transbluency: The Selected Poems of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (1961-1995), Marsilio, 1995.
Funk Lore: New Poems, 1984-1995, Sun & Moon Press, 1996.
Beginnings and Other Poems, House of Nehesi (Fredericksburg, VA), 2003.
Somebody Blew up America and Other Poems, House of Nehesi (Philipsburg, St. Martin, Caribbean), 2003.


Cuba Libre, Fair Play for Cuba Committee (New York, NY), 1961.
Blues People: Negro Music in White America, Morrow (New York, NY), 1963, reprinted, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1980, published as Negro Music in White America, MacGibbon & Kee (London, England), 1965.
Home: Social Essays (contains “Cuba Libre,” “The Myth of a ‘Negro Literature,’“ “Expressive Language,” “The Legacy of Malcolm X, and the Coming of the Black Nation,” and “State/ meant”), Morrow (New York, NY), 1966, Ecco Press (Hopewell, NJ), 1998.
Black Music, Morrow (New York, NY), 1968.
Raise, Race, Rays, Raze: Essays since 1965, Random House (New York, NY), 1971.
Strategy and Tactics of a Pan-African Nationalist Party, Jihad, 1971.
Kawaida Studies: The New Nationalism, Third World Press, 1972.
Crisis in Boston!, Vita Wa Watu People’s War, 1974.
Daggers and Javelins: Essays, 1974-1979, Morrow (New York, NY), 1984.
(With wife, Amina Baraka) The Music: Reflections on Jazz and Blues, Morrow (New York, NY), 1987.
Jesse Jackson and Black People, 1996.
The Essence of Reparation, House of Nehesi (Fredericksburg, VA), 2003.
Contributor of essays to Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun; and The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 1995.


January 1st 1959: Fidel Castro, Totem, 1959.
Four Young Lady Poets, Corinth, 1962.
(And author of introduction) The Moderns: An Anthology of New Writing in America, 1963, published as The Moderns: New Fiction in America, 1964.
(And co-author) In-formation, Totem, 1965.
Gilbert Sorrentino, Black & White, Corinth, 1965.
Edward Dorn, Hands Up!, Corinth, 1965.
(And contributor) Afro-American Festival of the Arts Magazine, Jihad, 1966, published as Anthology of Our Black Selves, 1969.
(With Larry Neal and A. B. Spellman) The Cricket: Black Music in Evolution, Jihad, 1968, published as Trippin’: A Need for Change, New Ark, 1969.
(And contributor, with Larry Neal) Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing, Morrow (New York, NY), 1968.
A Black Value System, Jihad, 1970.
(With Billy Abernathy under pseudonym Fundi) In Our Terribleness (Some Elements of Meaning in Black Style), Bobbs-Merrill (New York, NY), 1970.
(And author of introduction) African Congress: A Documentary of the First Modern Pan-African Congress, Morrow (New York, NY), 1972.
(With Diane Di Prima) The Floating Bear, A Newsletter, No.1-37, 1961-1969, McGilvery, 1974.
(With Amina Baraka) Confirmation: An Anthology of African-American Women, Morrow (New York, NY), 1983.
The System of Dante’s Hell (novel; includes the play Dante), Grove (New York, NY), 1965.
(Author of introduction) David Henderson, Felix of the Silent Forest, Poets Press, 1967.
Striptease, Parallax, 1967.
Tales (short stories), Grove (New York, NY), 1967.
(Author of preface) Black Boogaloo (Notes on Black Liberation), Journal of Black Poetry Press, 1969.
Focus on Amiri Baraka: Playwright LeRoi Jones Analyzes the 1st National Black Political Convention (sound recording), Center for Cassette Studies, 1973.
Three Books by Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), (contains The System of Dante’s Hell, Tales, and The Dead Lecturer), Grove (New York, NY), 1975.
Selected Plays and Prose of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones, Morrow (New York, NY), 1979.
The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/ Amiri Baraka, Freundlich, 1984, Lawrence Hill Books (Chicago, IL), 1997.
(Author of introduction) Martin Espada, Rebellion Is the Circle of a Lover’s Hand, Curbstone Press, 1990.
(Author of introduction) Eliot Katz, Space, and Other Poems, Northern Lights, 1990.
The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader, Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1991.
Thornton Dial: Images of the Tiger, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1993.
Jesse Jackson and Black People, Third World Press, 1994.
Shy’s Wise, Y’s: The Griot’s Tale, Third World Press, 1994.
(With Charlie Reilly) Conversations with Amiri Baraka (also see below), University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1994.
Eulogies, Marsilio Publishers (New York, NY), 1996.
The Fiction of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, foreword by Greg Tate, Lawrence Hill, 2000.
Works represented in anthologies, including A Broadside Treasury, For Malcolm, The New Black Poetry, Nommo, and The Trembling Lamb. Contributor to Black Men in Their Own Words, 2002; contributor to periodicals, including Evergreen Review, Poetry, Downbeat, Metronome, Nation, Negro Digest, and Saturday Review. Editor with Diane Di Prima, The Floating Bear, 1961-63.

Baraka’s works have been translated into Japanese, Norwegian, Italian, German, French, and Spanish.


Allen, Donald M., and Warren Tallman, editors, Poetics of the New American Poetry, Grove (New York, NY), 1973.
Anadolu-Okur, Nilgun, Contemporary African American Theater: Afrocentricity in the Works of Larry Neal, Amiri Baraka, and Charles Fuller, Garland (New York, NY), 1997.
Baraka, Amiri, Tales, Grove (New York, NY), 1967.
Baraka, Amiri, Black Magic: Sabotage; Target Study; Black Art; Collected Poetry, 1961-1967, Bobbs-Merrill (New York, NY), 1969.
Baraka, Amiri, The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Freundlich Books, 1984.
Baraka, Amiri, and Charlie Reilly, Conversations with Amiri Baraka, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1994.
Baraka, Amiri, and Larry Neal, editors, Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing, Morrow (New York, NY), 1968.
Benston, Kimberly A., editor, Baraka: The Renegade and the Mask, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1976.
Benston, Kimberly A., editor, Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones): A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall, 1978.
Bigsby, C. W. E., Confrontation and Commitment: A Study of Contemporary American Drama, 1959-1966, University of Missouri Press, 1968.
Bigsby, C. W. E., The Second Black Renaissance: Essays in Black Literature, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1980.
Bigsby, C. W. E., editor, The Black American Writer, Volume II: Poetry and Drama, Everett/ Edwards, 1970, Penguin (Harmondsworth, England), 1971.
Birnebaum, William M., Something for Everybody Is Not Enough, Random House (New York, NY), 1972.
Black Literature Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1991.
Brown, Lloyd W., Amiri Baraka, Twayne (New York, NY), 1980.
Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, Volume 1: The New Consciousness, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 1, 1973, Volume 2, 1974, Volume 3, 1975, Volume 5, 1976, Volume 10, 1979, Volume 14, 1980, Volume 33, 1985.
Cook, Bruce, The Beat Generation, Scribner (New York, NY), 1971.
Dace, Letitia, LeRoi Jones (Imamu Amiri Baraka): A Checklist of Works by and about Him, Nether Press, 1971.
Debusscher, Gilbert, and Henry I. Schvey, editors, New Essays on American Drama, Rodopi, 1989.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, 1980, Volume 7: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, 1981, Volume 16: The Beats; Literary Bohemians in Postwar America, 1983, Volume 38: Afro-American Writers after 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers, 1985.
Dukore, Bernard F., Drama and Revolution, Holt (New York, NY), 1971.
Elam, Harry Justin, Taking It to the Streets: The Social Protest Theater of Luis Valdez and Amiri Baraka, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1997.
Ellison, Ralph, Shadow and Act, New American Library (New York, NY), 1966.
Emanuel, James A., and Theodore L. Gross, editors, Dark Symphony: Negro Literature in America, Free Press (New York, NY), 1968.
Fox, Robert Elliot, Conscientious Sorcerers: The Black Postmodernist Fiction of LeRoi Jones/ Baraka, Ishmael Reed, and Samuel R. Delany, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1987.
Frost, David, The Americans, Stein & Day, 1970.
Gayle, Addison, The Way of the New World: The Black Novel in America, Anchor/Doubleday (New York, NY), 1975.
Gayle, Addison, editor, Black Expression: Essays by and about Black Americans in the Creative Arts, Weybright & Talley, 1969.
Gwynne, James B., editor, Amiri Baraka: The Kaleidoscopic Torch, Steppingstones Press, 1985.
Harris, William J., The Poetry and Poetics of Amiri Baraka: The Jazz Aesthetic, University of Missouri Press, 1985.
Haskins, James, Black Theater in America, Crowell (New York, NY), 1982.
Henderson, Stephen E., Understanding the New Black Poetry: Black Speech, and Black Music as Poetic References, Morrow (New York, NY), 1973.
Hill, Herbert, Soon, One Morning, Knopf (New York, NY), 1963.
Hill, Herbert, editor, Anger, and Beyond: The Negro Writer in the United States, Harper (New York, NY), 1966.
Hudson, Theodore, From LeRoi Jones to Amiri Baraka: The Literary Works, Duke University Press, 1973.
Inge, M. Thomas, Maurice Duke, and Jackson R. Bryer, editors, Black American Writers: Bibliographic Essays; Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Amiri Baraka, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1978.
Jones, LeRoi, Blues People: Negro Music in White America, Morrow (New York, NY), 1963.
Jones, LeRoi, The Dead Lecturer, Grove (New York, NY), 1964.
Jones, LeRoi, Home: Social Essays, Morrow (New York, NY), 1966.
Keil, Charles, Urban Blues, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1966.
King, Woodie, and Ron Milner, editors, Black Drama Anthology, New American Library (New York, NY), 1971.
Knight, Arthur, and Kit Knight, editors, The Beat Vision, Paragon House, 1987.
Kofsky, Frank, Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music, Pathfinder, 1970.
Lacey, Henry C., To Raise, Destroy, and Create: The Poetry, Drama, and Fiction of Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Whitson Publishing Company, 1981.
Lewis, Allan, American Plays and Playwrights, Crown (New York, NY), 1965.
Littlejohn, David, Black on White: A Critical Survey of Writing by American Negroes, Viking (New York, NY), 1966.
O'Brien, John, Interviews with Black Writers, Liveright (New York, NY), 1973.
Olaniyan, Tejumola, Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance: The Invention of Cultural Identities in African, African-American, and Caribbean Drama, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Ossman, David, The Sullen Art: Interviews with Modern American Poets, Corinth, 1963.
Rexroth, Kenneth, With Eye and Ear, Herder & Herder, 1970.
Rosenthal, M. L., The New Poets: American and British Poetry since World War II, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1967.
Sollors, Werner, Amiri Baraka/ LeRoi Jones: The Quest for a "Populist Modernism," Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1978.
Stepanchev, Stephen, American Poetry since 1945, Harper (New York, NY), 1965.
Weales, Gerald, The Jumping-off Place: American Drama in the 1960s, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1969.
Whitlow, Roger, Black American Literature: A Critical History, Nelson Hall (New York, NY), 1973.
Williams, Sherley Anne, Give Birth to Brightness: A Thematic Study in Neo-Black Literature, Dial (New York, NY), 1972.
African-American Review, summer-fall, 2003, special Baraka issue.
American Book Review, February, 1980; May-June, 1985.
Atlantic, January, 1966; May, 1966.
Avant Garde, September, 1968.
Black American Literature Forum, spring, 1980; spring, 1981; fall, 1982; spring, 1983; winter, 1985.
Black Issues Book Review, Robert Fleming, "Trouble Man," p. 22.
Black World, April, 1971; December, 1971; November, 1974; July, 1975.
Booklist, January 1, 1994, p. 799; February 15, 1994, p. 1052; October 15, 1995, p. 380.
Book Week, December 24, 1967.
Book World, October 28, 1979.
Boundary 2, number 6, 1978.
Callaloo, summer, 2003, Matthew Rebhorn, "Flying Dutchman: Maosochism, Minstrelsy, and the Gender Politics of Amiri Baraka's 'Dutchman', " p. 796.
Chicago Defender, January 11, 1965.
Chicago Tribune, October 4, 1968.
Commentary, February, 1965.
Contemporary Literature, Volume 12, 1971; winter, 2001, Michael Magee, "Tribes of New York," p. 694.
Detroit Free Press, January 31, 1965.
Detroit News, January 15, 1984; August 12, 1984.
Dissent, spring, 1965.
Ebony, August, 1967; August, 1969; February, 1971.
Educational Theatre Journal, March, 1968; March, 1970; March, 1976.
Esquire, June, 1966.
Essence, September, 1970; May, 1984; September, 1984; May, 1985.
Jazz Review, June, 1959.
Journal of Black Poetry, fall, 1968; spring, 1969; summer, 1969; fall, 1969.
Library Journal, January, 1994, p. 112; November, 1995, pp. 78-79.
Los Angeles Free Press, Volume 5, number 18, May 3, 1968.
Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1990.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 15, 1983; March 29, 1987.
Nation, October 14, 1961; November 14, 1961; March 13, 1964; April 13, 1964; January 4, 1965; March 15, 1965; January 22, 1968; February 2, 1970; November 18, 2002, Art Winslow, "Prosody in Motion," p. 11.
Negro American Literature Forum, March, 1966; winter, 1973.
Negro Digest, December, 1963; February, 1964; Volume 13, number 19, August, 1964; March, 1965; April, 1965; March, 1966; April, 1966; June, 1966; April, 1967; April, 1968; January, 1969; April, 1969.
Newsweek, March 13, 1964; April 13, 1964; November 22, 1965; May 2, 1966; March 6, 1967; December 4, 1967; December 1, 1969; February 19, 1973.
New York, November 5, 1979.
New Yorker, April 4, 1964; December 26, 1964; March 4, 1967; December 30, 1972; October 14, 2002, Nick Paumgarten, "Goodbye, Paramus."
New York Herald Tribune, March 25, 1964; April 2, 1964; December 13, 1964; October 27, 1965.
New York Post, March 16, 1964; March 24, 1964; January 15, 1965; March 18, 1965.
New York Review of Books, May 22, 1964; January 20, 1966; July 2, 1970; October 17, 1974; June 11, 1984; June 14, 1984.
New York Times, April 28, 1966; May 8, 1966; August 10, 1966; September 14, 1966; October 5, 1966; January 20, 1967; February 28, 1967; July 15, 1967; January 5, 1968; January 6, 1968; January 9, 1968; January 10, 1968; February 7, 1968; April 14, 1968; August 16, 1968; November 27, 1968; December 24, 1968; August 26, 1969; November 23, 1969; February 6, 1970; May 11, 1972; June 11, 1972; November 11, 1972; November 14, 1972; November 23, 1972; December 5, 1972; December 27, 1974; December 29, 1974; November 19, 1979; October 15, 1981; January 23, 1984; February 9, 1991.
New York Times Book Review, January 31, 1965; November 28, 1965; May 8, 1966; February 4, 1968; March 17, 1968; February 14, 1971; June 6, 1971; June 27, 1971; December 5, 1971; March 12, 1972; December 16, 1979; March 11, 1984; July 5, 1987; December 20, 1987.
New York Times Magazine, February 5, 1984.
Salmagundi, spring-summer, 1973.
Saturday Review, April 20, 1963; January 11, 1964; January 9, 1965; December 11, 1965; December 9, 1967; October 2, 1971; July 12, 1975.
Skeptical Inquirer, January-February, 2003, Kevin Christopher, "Baraka Buys Bunk," p. 8.
Studies in Black Literature, spring, 1970; Volume 1, number 2, 1970; Volume 3, number 2, 1972; Volume 3, number 3, 1972; Volume 4, number 1, 1973.
Sulfur, spring, 1992.
Sunday News (New York, NY), January 21, 1973.
Time, December 25, 1964; November 19, 1965; May 6, 1966; January 12, 1968; April 26, 1968; June 28, 1968; June 28, 1971.
Times Literary Supplement, November 25, 1965; September 1, 1966; September 11, 1969; October 9, 1969; August 2, 1991.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), March 29, 1987.
Village Voice, December 17, 1964; May 6, 1965; May 19, 1965; August 30, 1976; August 1, 1977; December 17-23, 1980; October 2, 1984.
Washington Post, August 15, 1968; September 12, 1968; November 27, 1968; December 5, 1980; January 23, 1981; June 29, 1987.
Washington Post Book World, December 24, 1967; May 22, 1983.
Academy of American Poets Web site, (July 19, 2001), "Amiri Baraka."
Amiri Baraka Home Page, (July 25, 2006).

Discover this poet’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.


An Agony. As Now.
A Contract. (For the Destruction and Rebuilding of Paterson
A New Reality Is Better Than a New Movie!