Tuesday, October 7, 2014



(Originally posted on January 11, 2014):

Saturday, January 11, 2014

AMIRI BARAKA, 1934-2014:



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,


“The attempt to divide art and politics is a bourgeois lie 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.” 
--Amiri Baraka



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
(www.downtownmusicgallery.com). For more information on this series, visit www.JazzSanctuary.org

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?"





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 and 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

(www.downtownmusicgallery.com). For more information on this series, visit www.JazzSanctuary.org

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?" (2005)



"The artist's role is to raise the consciousness of the people. To make them understand life, the world and themselves more completely. That's how I see it. Otherwise, I don't know why you do it."

'A man is either free or he is not. There cannot be any apprenticeship for freedom.'

"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."

"To name something is to wait for it in the place you think it will pass."

"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."

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

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

"“Art is whatever makes you proud to be human.”

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

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

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

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

Amiri Baraka: The Power of the Word:

Black Arts poet Amiri Baraka reads from his work, & discusses writing, politics & the Black experience with novelist and American literature professor Alexs Pate at the University of Minnesota in 2008. Co-produced with the support of the Givens Foundation:


Amiri Baraka speaks to the Importance of African-American History at the University of Virginia on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day January 15, 2011:



Amiri Baraka

Newark , NJ

Amiri Baraka was born Everett LeRoi 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, where in 1954 he earned his BA in English. 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 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 Great Goodness of Life became part of the successful “Black Quartet” off-Broadway, and his 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 taught poetry at the New School for Social Research in New York, literature at the University of Buffalo, and drama at Columbia University. He 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 was co-director, with his wife, of Kimako’s Blues People, a community arts space.

Amiri Baraka died on January 9, 2014.

Selected Bibliography


Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note (1961)
The Dead Lecturer (1964)
Black Art (1969)
Black Magic: Collected Poetry 1961-1967 (1969)
It’s Nation Time (1970)
Spirit Reach (1972)
Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (1979)
The Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader (1991)
Transbluesency: The Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/Leroi Jones (1961-1995) (1995)
Wise Why’s Y’s: The Griot’s Tale (1995)
Funk Lore: New Poems (1984-1995) (1996)
Somebody Blew up America and Other Poems (House of Nehesi, 2003)


Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka (1984)
Conversations with Amiri Baraka (1994)
Daggers and Javelins: Essays, 1974-1979 (1984)
Eulogies (1996)
Home: Social Essays (1966)
Jesse Jackson & Black People (1996)
Raise, Race, Rays, Raze: Essays Since 1965 (1971)
The Essence of Reparations (2003)


Arm Yrself or Harm Yrself (1967)
BA-RA-KA (1972)
Black Power Chant (1972)
Dutchman and The Slave: Two Plays (1964)
Four Black Revolutionary Plays, All Praises to the Black Man (1969)
General Hag’s Skeezag (1992)
Home on the Range (1968)
Jello (1970)
Junkies Are Full of (SHHH...) (1970)
Police (1968)
Rockgroup (1969)
Selected Plays and Prose of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (1979)
The Baptism and The Toilet (1967)
The Death of Malcolm X (1969)
The Motion of History, and Other Plays (1978)
The Sidney Poet Heroical, in 29 Scenes (1979)


Tales (1967)
The System of Dante’s Hell (1965)
Three Books by Imamu Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones) (1975)

Amiri Baraka Photo credit: James Madison University

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
& God
wont 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

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 matter, 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 Guinea Coast 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.

Anthony Braxton - Five Pieces -Comp 23 G


Anthony Braxton - "Comp. 40 M" (1974):


Anthony Braxton Quartet 1974 ~ "Ornithology" (by Charlie Parker)


Anthony Braxton - "Composition 55"


Anthony Braxton - "Composition No 1” 


Anthony Braxton Quartet Spain 1983


Anthony Braxton Live in concert and interviewed in 2010