Amiri Baraka, born in Newark, NJ 7 October 1934, is author of over 40 books of essays, poems, drama, music history and criticism. Baraka is a poet icon and revolutionary political activist who has recited poetry and lectured on cultural and political issues extensively in the USA, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe. With influences on his work ranging from musical orishas such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, and Sun Ra to the Cuban Revolution, Malcolm X and world revolutionary movements, Baraka is renowned as the founder of the Black Arts Movement in Harlem in the 1960s. The Black Arts Movement became the virtual blueprint for a new American theater aesthetics. The Movement and his published and performance work, such as the signature study on African-American music (Blues People, 1963) and the play Dutchman (1963), practically seeded “the cultural corollary to black nationalism” of that revolutionary American milieu. Baraka has been the subject of numerous documentary films including Mario Van Peeble's Poetic License and St. Clair Bourne's In Motion: Amiri Baraka. He has also appeared in dozens of films including, most recently, M.K. Asante, Jr's award-winning documentary The Black Candle. The Essence of Reparations is Baraka’s first published collection of essays in book form radically exploring what is sure to become a twenty-first century watershed movement of Black peoples to the interrelated issues of racism, national oppression, colonialism, neo-colonialism, self-determination and national and human liberation, which he has long been addressing creatively and critically. It has been said that Amiri Baraka is committed to social justice like no other American writer. He has taught at San Francisco State University, Yale, Columbia, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Somebody Blew Up America & Other Poems is Baraka’s first collection of poems published in the Caribbean and includes the title poem that has headlined him in the media in ways rare to poets and authors. The recital of the poem “that mattered” engaged the poet warrior in a battle royal with the governor of New Jersey and with a legion of detractors demanding his resignation as the state’s Poet Laureate because of Somebody Blew Up America’s provocatively poetic inquiry (in a few lines of the poem) about who knew beforehand about the New York City World Trade Center bombings in 2001. Baraka lives in Newark with his wife and author-singer Amina Baraka; they have five children. His awards and honors include an Obie, the American Academy of Arts & Letters award, the James Weldon Johnson Medal for contributions to the arts, Rockefeller Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts grants and Poet Laureate of New Jersey.
These contributions, and more, have caused Bay Area writer/activist Marvin X to refer to Amiri Baraka as the “greatest living poet” and people like Marvin X, Danny Glover, Sonia Sanchez, David Murray, Herb Boyd, Aisha Rahman, Sam E. Anderson, Woodie King, Jr., Eugene Redmon, Miguel Aguilar, Henry Grimes, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille, D. D. Jackson, Vijay Iyer, Oliver Lake, Autumn Ashante, G. Rhodes-Benjamin, Jamar Blake, Ariana Gibbs, Arthur French, Ron Cephus Jones, Melba Joyce, Bruce George, Louis Reyes Rivera, Steve and Iqua Colson, Dwight West, Pheeroan Aklaff, Ed Bullins, Cornel West, John Bracey, and hundreds others, converged on Newark, NJ and New York City recently, to participate in a week-long celebration of the 75th birthday of Amiri Baraka. Hear some of the participants’ stories, poetry, music and song.
Co-produced by Erica Bridgeman and Safi wa Nairobi.