Form and Content
In his early roles as poet, dramatist, radical organizer, and spokesperson for African-American causes, LeRoi Jones’s public, outspoken, and sometimes fiery side provided many opportunities to be misunderstood. Surely that was the impetus for Jones, who changed his name to Amiri Baraka, to write The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, a detailed account of the first forty years of his life. Baraka shows the connections between diverse personal and public worlds in nine chapters. The first eight chapters segment significant stages in Baraka’s development, moving from childhood and adolescence to the world of arts and letters and political activism. The final chapter summarizes his successes and failures and defines the “true” LeRoi Jones, who, he suggests, few have understood. The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka is a complicated amalgamation of seemingly disparate elements of personality: LeRoi Jones the exuberant streetwise adolescent, the experimental modern poet and dramatist, the radical political leader, and the son, lover, friend, and father.
The book begins in Newark, New Jersey, with Baraka’s attempt to understand his ancestors—the “black, brown, tan” world of African-American culture. Baraka details the separation of white and black worlds in the 1930’s and 1940’s, as well as the diversity within the African-American community. As an adolescent, he is drawn outside his family into the world of...
(The entire section is 505 words.)