Amiri Baraka, one of this country’s leading revolutionary writers, a paramount representative of the Black Consciousness Movement, and a veteran challenger of the great injustices and inequalities inherent in a class-based society—run on the fuel of historical racism—died last Thursday. Baraka was 79. Baraka published more than 50 books of poetry, fiction, essays, and plays since the 1950s, including “Blues People,” his take on African American music. Formerly known as LeRoi Jones, he hit big with the 1964 award-winning off-Broadway play, “Dutchman.” He became New Jersey’s Poet Laureate in August of 2002, but the position was abolished soon after he wrote the poem “Somebody Blew Up America,” which was unfairly designated as anti-Semitic. He never failed to speak up, to write poems that moved ideas, emotions and political awareness. I was fortunate to have read with the master in a couple of occasions. I was on a panel with Mr. Baraka and Allen Ginsberg in New Jersey just prior to Ginsberg’s death in 1997. I also was on the stage with Mr. Baraka and his wife Amina during one of the Black Poetry Festivals in London (I may have been one of the few, if not the only, non-African poet reading). And Mr. Baraka and I took part in the 2007 Caracas Book Festival where the theme was “Is Revolution Possible in the United States?” People from around the world were invited. I presented on the capitalism system and its impact on social, cultural and political movements; Amiri spoke about the revolutionary trends and issues facing the United States. I am honored to call him a teacher and a model of uncompromising truth in letters, performance and voice. Que descances en paz, hermano. c/s
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