Amiri Baraka Additional Biography


ph_0111207621-Baraka.jpg Amiri Baraka. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Introspective yet concerned with public, political issues, Amiri Baraka’s works frequently focus on his personal attempt to define an African American identity. Born into a close-knit family that had migrated from the South, Baraka was a bright student. In adolescence Baraka became aware of differences between African American middle-class and working-class lives and viewpoints. He recalls the identity crisis that grew out of his developing class awareness in such works as “Letter to E. Franklin Frazier,” his novel The System of Dante’s Hell, and short stories collected in Tales (1967). His interest in jazz and blues also began in adolescence and was reinforced by the mentorship of poet Sterling A. Brown, one of Baraka’s professors at Howard University.

After an enlistment in the Air Force, Baraka settled in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1957 and began publishing Yugen, a poetry magazine that became one of the important journals of the Beat generation. After the success of his play Dutchman and his recognition as an important critic for his study Blues People: Negro Music in White America, the assassination of Malcolm X was a shocking event that caused Baraka to reject his previous faith in the possibilities of a racially integrated society. In 1965, he embraced a Black Nationalist political viewpoint and helped establish the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School in Harlem, which became the center of a nationwide Black Arts movement. This movement attempted to produce literature, music, and visual art addressed to the masses of African Americans. The Black Arts movement aimed at expressing a unique ethnic worldview and what Baraka called “a Black value system.” His works of this period often depict a hostile white society and question whether middle-class aspirations and individualism endangered the progress of African Americans as a group. He saw the collective improvisation of jazz as a model for the arts and for political activism.

Turning to Marxism in 1974, Baraka extended these ideas. Dedicating his work to revolutionary action, Baraka suggested that the situation of African Americans paralleled that of colonized Third World peoples in Africa and Asia. Teaching at the State University of New York and other colleges, Baraka produced highly original poems, plays, and essays that continued to address controversial issues and to reach a wide international readership. His experiments with literary form—particularly the use of African American vernacular speech—also has influenced many younger American writers.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Imamu Amiri Baraka, as he has been known since 1967, was born Everett LeRoi Jones into a black middle-class family in Newark, New Jersey, the son of postal worker-elevator operator Coyette Leroy Jones and social worker Anna Lois Russ Jones. An excellent student whose parents encouraged his intellectual interests, young LeRoi Jones developed lifelong interests in literature and music at an early age. After graduating with honors from a predominately white high school, he was admitted to Rutgers University in 1951. The following year, he briefly attended Columbia University before transferring to Howard University, but he dropped out in 1954 at the age of nineteen. He would later receive M.A. degrees in philosophy from Columbia and...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Amiri Baraka (buh-RAH-kuh), born Everett LeRoi Jones, is one of the most important and most articulate writers of the Black Arts movement. Born on October 7, 1934, to a middle-class family, he graduated from high school at fifteen and attended Rutgers University on a science scholarship. After a year, he transferred to Howard University, receiving a B.A. in English in 1954. After serving in the Air Force, Baraka moved to Greenwich Village and plunged into a bohemian lifestyle that was influenced by the aesthetic protests of the Beat generation. During this period, he was married to a Jewish intellectual with whom he edited Yugen, an avant-garde magazine. He gained recognition as a music critic, did graduate work in...

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Floyd Gaffney, in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, has compared Amiri Baraka (also known as LeRoi Jones or Imamu Amiri Baraka) to...

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Amiri Baraka was born Everett LeRoi Jones on October 7, 1934, to Anna Lois Russ Jones, a social worker, and Coyt Jones, a postal supervisor....

(The entire section is 644 words.)


Amiri Baraka, who was born Everett LeRoi Jones in Newark, New Jersey in 1934, has been one of the strongest African-American voices for...

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Amiri Baraka was born Everett LeRoy Jones on October 7, 1934, in Newark, New Jersey. (He changed LeRoy to LeRoi in the early 1950s.) His...

(The entire section is 665 words.)