The Wire

News

Amiri Baraka dies aged 79

Poet, playwright and activist Amiri Baraka, has died at the age of 79. Baraka was hailed as one of the greatest black writers of his generation, but was also accused of being homophobic, violent and a misogynist. Baraka inspired but also inflamed, as in 2012 when "Somebody Blew Up America", a poem about September 11, was attacked for being anti-Semitic, and lead to the dissolution of New Jersey's poet laureate position after Baraka refused to resign from the role.

Originally named LeRoi Jones, Baraka grew up in Newark, New Jersey. He built his reputation in Greenwich Village at the tail end of the beat scene, and in the 60s and 70s became a major figure in the Black Arts movement. In 1984 (The Wire 10), Val Wilmer described him as "one of the best kept secrets in the jazz world, a world where his profound analysis is sorely needed. Always provocative, his words formed an appropriate literary backdrop for the tumult that was the 60s New Wave".

He lectured regularly, and received numerous grants and awards including a Guggenheim fellowship. Baraka published books, poetry, music criticism and plays throughout his life, notably Blues People, a history of black people in America through their music, and Black Music, a collection of jazz criticism.