Amiri Baraka

Quick Look At Baraka

Amiri Baraka was an influential African American poet, activist, and Black nationalist.

Early Life

Amiri Baraka was born Everett LeRoi Jones on October 7, 1934, in Newark, New Jersey. He went by LeRoi Jones. In high school, Baraka began to gain an interest in jazz music and poetry. For his first two years of college, he attended Rutgers University, before transferring to Howard University. In 1954, Baraka graduated with his BA in English. From 1954 to 1957 he served in the Air Force.


After being discharged from the Air Force, Baraka moved to Manhattan where he gained recognition in his community as an artist of Greenwich Village. In Manhattan, he was also attending school at Columbia University and The New School. Here he met and married Hettie Cohen, and together, they began to co-edit Yugen, a literary magazine. In 1958, Baraka founded the Totem Press, where he published works of major writers. In 1961, he released his own writing. It was a series of poetry titled, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note. After this, he served as the co-editor of The Floating Bear (another literary magazine) until 1963. In 1962, Baraka published two plays, The Slave and The Toilet. In 1964, the publishing of Dutchman was a controversial hit. It addressed racial tension in America by explaining the hostility many Black people felt could have shown to white Americans in response to suppression and racism but have refrained from. The play won an Obie Award for "best off-Broadway play," and it was later made into a film.

Malcolm X's assassination was a point of change in Baraka's life. He disassociated with a lot of things in his life to focus on racial political issues, including his marriage. He then moved to Harlem where he founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School. In just a few months, the company meant to produce plays for Black audiences dissolved. Baraka then moved back to Newark, where he remarried to a poet named Sylvia Robinson. He founded another theater in Newark called Spirit House Players. In 1968, he changed his name from Everett LeRoi Jones to Imamu Amiri Baraka after becoming a Muslim. From then until 1975, he served as the chairman of the Committee for Unified Newark. He later founded and served as the chairman of the Congress of African People, a national Pan-Africanist organization. In 1972, Baraka worked to organize the National Black Political Convention with many other prominent Black political leaders. In 1974, for spiritual and philosophical reasons, he took away the title "Imamu" in his name and just went by Amiri Baraka. In 1983, the book Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women, which Baraka edited with his wife, received an American Book Award.

Amiri Baraka wrote over 50 books and taught at many different universities. He passed away on January 9, 2014.

Baraka's plays and poems changed the literary field and he made political change through many groups and organizations.