| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones)
Amiri Baraka, born Everett LeRoy Jones to Coyt LeRoy
and Anna Lois Jones in Newark, New Jersey, grew up in a middle-class
environment. He attended a predominantly black elementary school, but his
college-prep high school, from which he graduated with honors in 1951, was
mainly white. About 1951, the first of his name changes occurred with the
spelling of his middle name from “LeRoy” to “LeRoi.” From 1952 to 1954 he
attended Howard University, where he studied with Sterling Brown and Nathan
Scott. After he flunked out of school, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force until
1957. These were years of intellectual commitment and poetry writing. In 1957,
however, he was dishonorably discharged because of suspicions of communism and
such “suspicious activities” as voracious reading, journal-keeping, poetry
writing, and subscribing to avant-garde journals.
to live the avant-garde life that had become his preference, Baraka moved to
New York’s Greenwich Village. Among his associates there were Charles Olson,
Frank O’Hara, and Allen Ginsberg. In 1958 he married Hettie Cohn, a Jewish
woman also much a part of the Beat scene, and together they edited Yugen, a
literary journal which published the work of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and many
next decade was marked by a significant change from things aesthetic to things
political. His 1960 visit to Cuba marks the genesis of political awareness of
blackness and a new frame of reference: the third world. Although the year
after his trip saw the inauguration of another avant-garde journal, this time
co-edited with poet Diane di Prima, and the publication of his first volume of
poetry, by 1964 the tensions inherent along the spectrum of early poetic
asceticism and racial didacticism become apparent in the poems of The Dead
Lecturer, as well as his play Dutchman, for which he won an Obie Award for its
affected by the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, Baraka left Hettie and the
bohemian life of the Village and moved to Harlem, where he established the
Black Arts Repertory Theater/School. In 1966, returning to Newark, he founded a
similar venture, Spirit House, and married Sylvia Robinson, a black woman.
Again a change of name signaled a re-shaping of identity: LeRoi Jones became
Imamu Amiri Baraka, as he was known through the racial upheavals of the 60s. By
the early 70s he had dropped the title “Imamu,” yet another indication of a
shift: this one from black nationalism to international socialism, a stance
obviously not tolerant of titles. His published poetry of the late 70s reflects
this shift in thought.
1979 he joined the African Studies Department at SUNY Stony Brook, was promoted
to associate professor with tenure in 1982, and to full professor in 1984
following the publication of Autobiography and Daggers and Javelins. He
continues to work on Wise/Whys, an African American poetic-historical odyssey.
The sense of flux and process, of
intensity and explosion, of rebellion and reconstruction, and always the SOUND
of it, are everywhere present in his poetry and in his prose. Dutchman, included
in the book, has come to be seen as his signature work.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
In the Heath Anthology
An Agony. As now.
A Poem Some People Will Have to Understand
Black People: This Is Our Destiny
Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note . . .
The Dead Lecturer
Home: Social Essays
In Our Terribleness
It's Nation Time
Selected Essays of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones, and Selected Prose of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones
In the Tradition, Greenfield Review
Daggers and Javelins: Essays, 1974-1979
The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka
There are no Cultural Objects for this author.
Would you like to add a Cultural Object?
There are no pedagogical assignments or approaches for this author.
Modern American Poetry
Offers a biography with historical context, criticism, some works online, links, and more.
An essay about Baraka's impact on contemporary "rap and rant."
Playwright, Author, Poet, Activist, Critic, Educator
Provides a chronology, specific info about his play Dutchman, and a bibliography.