Amiri Baraka, A giant has left us

Amiri Baraka at the Miami Book Fair International in 2007.
Photo by David Heischrek

Amiri Baraka formally Everett LeRoi Jones made his transition on Jan. 9, 2014 at the age of 79, and is now an ancestor. Amiri Baraka was a wordsmith extraordinaire and probably the finest American poet of this age, an essayist, novelist, dramatist, lecturer, educator, husband, father, friend and mentor to many, and an icon of our age. He leaves a legacy of published and as yet unpublished work. In his life Baraka accomplished much. He founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre and School, which gave birth to the Black Arts Movement of the 60s and 70s. During his life time he received many awards: the Obie Award for Dutchman, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Rockefeller Foundation Award for Drama, fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Langston Hughes Award from City College of New York, an introduction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Before Columbus Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award and he was Poet Laureate of New Jersey from 2002 to 2003,

Amiri Baraka was born in Newark, NJ to his parents, Coyt Leverette Jones and Anna Lois Jones. He had a sister, Sondra Lee Jones later Kimako Baraka who was brutally murdered in her apartment in Manhattan Plaza in 1984. He was married to Hettie Cohen in 1958 and they had two daughters, Kellie and Lisa Jones. In 1967 Amiri married Amina Baraka. They remained married and working together until his death. Amiri and Amina Baraka had a very strong and loving relationship, writing, editing and performing together in Blue Ark their performance group of poets, musicians and singers, which toured worldwide. They had four sons, Obalaji, Ras, Amiri, Jr, and Ahi. They also had a daughter, Shani who was also brutally murdered.

After the Black Arts closed, Baraka left New York and moved back to Newark where he founded Spirit House, another arts institution similar to the Black Arts where performance in music, poetry and theatre were performed on an ongoing bases until the building was vandalized by the Newark police during the Newark Rebellion of 1967. Later Amiri and Amina opened Kimako’s Blues People a performance space in their home, basement on South 110th Street in Newark. They presented many world famous poets, musicians and singers there in a very intimate setting for a very appreciative and supportive community audience.

Baraka also involved himself in electoral politics, supporting the election of Ken Gibson in 1970, the first Black Mayor of Newark, NJ, unseating then mafia connected, Mayor Hugh Addonizio and his corrupt administration. Up until his death, Baraka was actively supporting the candidacy of his son Ras Baraka for Mayor of Newark, New Jersey. The election is this year in May. As a tribute to Amiri Baraka, those who loved and supported him, should do whatever they can to ensure that Ras Barak becomes Mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

Baraka was a very controversial figure and a prominent member of the Black Arts/Black Power Movement. He is the author of twelve published books of poetry, three books of fiction, ten books of non-fiction, six plays and the editor of six works of poetry, plays, fiction, essays and jazz criticism, not to mention the many volumes of unpublished work. He remained a prolific writer until his death.

Amiri Baraka leaves his wife and life partner, Amina Baraka, sons Obalaji, Ras, Amiri, Jr., and Ahi; daughters, Dominique DePrima, Kellie Jones, Lisa Jones Brown and Maria Jones; step-daughters Vera and Wanda Wilson; several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Amiri Baraka died on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 in Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. He had long battled diabetes and it is reported that he died from complication of surgery performed on Dec. 21 at Beth Israel. The homegoing service for Amiri Baraka was held at Newark Symphony Hall, in the 2700 seat, Sarah Vaughn Concert Hall, which was filled to capacity with Baraka supporters from around the world. The service was televised on: www.CPRmetro.org and can be seen as a podcast at: www.ustream.tv/recorded/42838015

A tribute will be held for Amiri Baraka on Feb. 8, 2014 at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY 10037 at 7:30 p.m.

© Amun/Ankhra House, Ltd.

George N’Namdi, Quincy Troupe and Amiri Baraka at a book party for Amiri.
Photo by CD Dawson

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