Mourning the death of Amiri Baraka, influential African American writer of poetry, drama, fiction, essays and music criticism

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  • 17 / Jan / 2014

Resolution Details

Law Section:
Resolutions, Legislative



LEGISLATIVE RESOLUTION mourning the death of Amiri Baraka, influential
African American writer of poetry, drama, fiction, essays and music

WHEREAS, It is the sense of this Legislative Body to pay tribute to the
lives of those prominent individuals who distinguished themselves
through their life's work; and
WHEREAS, It is with great sorrow and deep regret that this Legislative
Body records the passing of Amiri Baraka who died on Thursday, January
9, 2014, at the age of 79, noting the significance of his purposeful
life and accomplishments; and
WHEREAS, Amiri Baraka was an American writer of poetry, drama,
fiction, essays and music criticism, and the author of numerous books of
poetry and taught at a number of universities, including the State
University of New York at Buffalo and the State University of New York
at Stony Brook; and
WHEREAS, Amiri Baraka received the PEN Open Book Award, formerly known
as the Beyond Margins Award, in 2008 for TALES OF THE OUT AND THE GONE;
known to some as one of the most respected and most widely published
Black writers of his generation; and
WHEREAS, Born Everett LeRoi Jones on October 7, 1934, in Newark, New
Jersey, Amiri Baraka was formerly known as LeRoi Jones and Imamu Amear
Baraka; his father, Coyt Leverette Jones, worked as a postal supervisor
and lift operator, and his mother, Anna Lois Russ, was a social worker;
WHEREAS, He attended Barringer High School, and in 1967, he adopted
the Muslim name Imamu Amear Baraka, which he later changed to Amiri
Baraka; as a child, he was transfixed by poetry and music; and
WHEREAS, In 1951, Amiri Baraka won a scholarship to Rutgers Universi-
ty, and one year later, he transferred to Howard University; his major
fields of study were philosophy and religion; he also studied at Colum-
bia University and the New School for Social Research; and
WHEREAS, In 1954, Amiri Baraka joined the United States Air Force as a
gunner, reaching the rank of sergeant; after being discharged, he moved
to Greenwich Village working initially in a warehouse for music records;
WHEREAS, It was at this time Amiri Baraka's interest in jazz began; he
came into contact with avant-garde Beat Generation, Black Mountain poets
and New York School poets; and
WHEREAS, In 1958, Amiri Baraka married Hettie Cohen, with whom he had
two daughters, Kellie Jones and Lisa Jones; and
WHEREAS, Together, Amiri and Hettie founded TOTEM PRESS, which
published such Beat icons as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg; they also
jointly founded a quarterly literary magazine YUGEN, which ran for eight
issues from 1958 until 1962; and
WHEREAS, Furthermore, Amiri Baraka worked as editor and critic for the
literary and arts journal KULCHUR from 1960 through 1965; along with
Diane di Prima, he edited the first 25 issues from 1961 until 1963 of
their magazine THE FLOATING BEAR; and
WHEREAS, In 1961, Amiri Baraka published his first book of poems; he
also co-founded the New York Poets Theatre with Diane di Prima, choreog-
raphers Fred Herko and James Waring, and actor Alan S. Marlowe; in June
of 1962, his daughter, Dominique di Prima was born; and
WHEREAS, In 1963, Amiri Baraka wrote a book called BLUES PEOPLE, a
volume of jazz criticism, many believe to be his signature work, that
changed people's ideas about the importance of African American culture;

WHEREAS, The assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, during the height of
the Civil Rights movement, motivated Amiri Baraka to move to Harlem
where he had an extensive presence; he founded the Black Repertory
Theatre/School in Harlem, and became one of the key figures at the fore-
front of the Black Arts Movement - Black Aesthetic Movement (BAM) which
included other notable African American literary pioneers and giants
such as Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Maya Angelou, Hoyt W. Fuller and
Rosa Guy; and
WHEREAS, The Black Arts Movement was inspired by the Civil Rights
Movement, specifically the teachings of the Nation of Islam and the
Black Power Movement, and is considered to be one of the most signif-
icant periods of African American literature; and
WHEREAS, The Black Arts Movement would endure until the mid 1970s and
change the face of literature and arts by inspiring and encouraging
diverse literary and artistic works that reflected the various experi-
ences of African American politics, culture and history during one of
the most pivotal eras in our country's history; and
WHEREAS, In 1966, Amiri married his second wife, Sylvia Robinson, who
later adopted the name Amina Baraka; and
WHEREAS, In 1967, he lectured at San Francisco State University, and
his second book of jazz criticism came out, BLACK MUSIC, a collection of
previously published music journalism, including the seminal APPLE CORES
columns from DOWN BEAT magazine; and
WHEREAS, That same year, Amiri Baraka, still LeRoi Jones, visited
Maulana Karenga in Los Angeles and became an advocate of his philosophy
of Kawaida, a multifaceted, categorized activist philosophy that
produced the "Nguzo Saba," Kwanzaa, and an emphasis on African names; it
was at this time that he adopted the name Imamu Amear Baraka; Imamu is a
Swahili title for "spiritual leader" which is derived from the Arabic
word Imam; he dropped the honorific Imamu and eventually changed Amear,
which means Prince, to Amiri, and Baraka means blessing; and
WHEREAS, In 1979, he became a lecturer in Stony Brook University's
Africana Studies Department and was recognized by the Guggenheim Founda-
tion and the National Endowment for the Arts; and
WHEREAS, During the 1982-1983 academic year, Amiri Baraka was a visit-
ing professor at Columbia University, where he taught a course entitled
"Black Women and Their Fictions"; in 1984, he became a full professor at
Rutgers University; the following year, he returned to Stony Brook,
eventually becoming professor emeritus of African Studies; and
WHEREAS, In 1987, together with Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, he was
.SO DOC S R2954 RESO TEXT 2013
a speaker at the commemoration ceremony for James Baldwin; in 1989,
Amiri Baraka won an American Book Award for his works as well as a Lang-
ston Hughes Award; and
WHEREAS, In 1990, he co-authored the autobiography of Quincy Jones,
and in 1998, was a supporting actor in Warren Beatty's film "Bulworth";
in 1996, he contributed to the AIDS benefit album "Offbeat: A Red Hot
Soundtrip" produced by the Red Hot Organization; and
WHEREAS, In July of 2002, Amiri Baraka was named Poet Laureate of New
Jersey by Governor Jim McGreevey; and
WHEREAS, Amiri Baraka collaborated with hip-hop group The Roots on the
song "Something in the Way of Things (In Town)" on their 2002 album
Phrenology; in 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante included Amiri Baraka on
his list of 100 Greatest African Americans; and
WHEREAS, As an influential ambassador for African American cultural
arts as well as a spokesperson for social justice, Amiri Baraka truly
distinguished himself as a powerful guiding force for generations of
African American poets, writers and musicians, and civil rights leaders;
now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That this Legislative Body pause in its deliberations to
mourn the death of Amiri Baraka, prominent African American writer of
poetry, drama, fiction, essays and music criticism; and be it further
RESOLVED, That a copy of this Resolution, suitably engrossed, be tran-
smitted to the family of Amiri Baraka.


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