The Life And Poetry Of Amiri Baraka

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The Life And Poetry Of Amiri Baraka Essay, Research Paper March 9, 2001 The Life and Poetry of Amiri Baraka “To understand that you are black in a society where black is an extreme liability is one thing, but to understand that it is the society that is lacking and impossibly deformed, and not yourself, isolates you even more” (About 3). This is a direct quote from Baraka, and it outlines his beliefs well. History and society have always influenced Amiri Baraka, and this made him feel as though society was isolating the Black community. Throughout his life, Baraka has tried to teach the idea of equality among races and classes by way of his poetry, plays, and speeches. His concept of equality came from his experiences while growing up during the time of the Civil Rights

Movement. He held three main ideological positions due to his place in history; they are his values during the so-called ‘Beat Generation’, his Black Nationalist period, and his Marxist-Leninist period. Perhaps, to better understand his ethics, one must look at his upbringing and lifestyle. Everette Leroy Jones was born on October 7, 1934 in the industrial city of Newark, New Jersey. His parents, Colt LeRoy Jones and Anna Lois Jones, were two lower-middle class workers who held jobs as a postal supervisor and social worker, respectively (Young 1). Leroy went to public schools in Newark, and graduated from Barringer High School in 1951. He was offered many scholarships, but accepted the one from Rutgers University. However, he was disappointed in Rutgers, and transferred to

Howard University. There he studied chemistry before turning to psychology and literature. In 1954 he ended his college career and joined the US Air Force. While there, he came interested in modern literature and poetry, reading whenever possible. By 1957, Leroy had reached the rank of sergeant, but when communist journals were found in his possession, he was discharged (Young 2). He then moved to Greenwich Village, and joined with the likes of Allen Ginsburg, Charles Olson, and Frank O’Hara. These artists, musicians, and writers were known as the “Beat Generation” (Baraka 1). During this time, Leroy had his works recognized by literary giant, Langston Hughes. He was also given an award for his off-Broadway play, Dutchman. On October 13, 1958, he married Hettie Cohen, a

middle-class Jewish woman with whom he co-edited a magazine (Amiri 1). With his new reputation as a writer, he opened the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BART/S) on April 30, 1965. The idea was to open a channel between the black artists and the masses. Even though the life of the BART/S was short, the idea spread across the nation (BARTS 1). When his theater failed to stay open, he began to distance himself from white society. In 1965, with the assassination of Malcolm X, this hatred was solidified. From this point, Baraka took Malcolm’s view of Black Nationalism. It was a view of equality, even through militant means (Young 3). The man who buried Malcolm X gave Leroy the Muslim name, Ameer Baraka, and later Ron Karenga, perhaps one of the strongest voices in the Black

Nationalist Movement, changed Ameer to Amiri (Young 3). With his new name, and his new values, Baraka divorced Hettie and abandoned his children, leaving them for Newark. He then married Sylvia Robinson, who changed her name to Amina Baraka (Amiri 1). In July of 1967, Amiri was beaten by police officers and arrested for carrying a firearm, which he later said were planted. This was during one of the deadliest urban riots throughout this century. What led from this was a trial surrounded with controversy. The debate was not over the police brutality, nor was it over the all-white jury; the debate was over a poem of Baraka’s that was submitted into evidence. The poem, entitled “Black People” was about murder and theft of white people and their property, and the court claimed