The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka personalizes difficult events: the emergence of the Black Arts community, the development of the Black Power movement, and the correspondence between the Beat generation and 1960’s protest movements. Often these tantalizing topics are given short shrift in history texts and remain fragmented in separate compartments—music, politics, literature. Baraka’s autobiography links these diverse worlds.
Baraka’s vivid childhood memories, his acute insight on African-American heritage, blues and jazz, and black-white relations have served as vital fuel for his poetry, prose, and drama. Young adults can readily trace the connections between art and experience in this autobiography. Just as important, they can see how ideas and experiences can bring individuals together to produce artistic communities. In The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka they can find new portraits of poets, artists, and jazz musicians, ranging from Allen Ginsberg to Miles Davis. Baraka’s work clearly demonstrates that none of these figures existed within a vacuum.
Young adult readers can also see both the frailties and the strengths of historical movements made up of passionate individuals: the power struggles, the fights over ideology, the mistakes, and the triumphs. Ultimately, Baraka’s autobiography allows young adults to see the rough edges of a major thinker before historians box him into a category.