We lost one of our most vibrant and uncompromising voices with the death of poet, playwright, and cultural critic Amiri Baraka. Born LeRoi Jones, Baraka had the distinction of dropping out of three universities and being discharged from the Air Force for communist sympathies before starting his literary career. Gaining fame as one of the few poets of color in the Beat Generation, he simultaneously established himself as a prominent jazz critic with a regular column in Down Beat magazine. In 1964, his play The Dutchman won an Obie award and was subsequently turned in a film. Deeply affected by assassinations of civil rights leaders, he became closely associated with Black Nationalism. Softening his views somewhat after the 1970s, the tag of antisemitism dogged him for years because of political writings during this period. Political controversies never got in the way of him producing work. A few of the honors earned during his long career include an American Book Award, PEN/Open Book Award, a Guggenheim fellowship, and induction in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He even served a short, not uncontroversial tenure, as New Jersey’s poet laureate. Here are a few select titles:
This contains reprints of his most influential Down Beat columns.