Thursday, January 9, 2014

Amiri Baraka joins ancestors, may they be pleased with him

Amiri Baraka, former N.J. poet laureate and prolific author, dead at 79

Amiri Baraka, the state's former poet laureate and a revered author, poet and activist, has died. He was 79. Baraka is shown in this 2009 file photo. (Star-Ledger file photo)
David Giambusso/The Star-Ledger By David Giambusso/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
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on January 09, 2014 at 3:14 PM, updated January 09, 2014 at 3:48 PM
NEWARK — Amiri Baraka, the longtime activist and former poet laureate of New Jersey died today, officials confirmed. He was 79 years old.

Baraka was placed in intensive care at Beth Israel Medical Center last month for an unknown reason, but a spokesman for his son's mayoral campaign said his condition was improving late in December.
Newark Mayor Luis Quintana said Baraka will be sorely missed.
"I went to visit him at the hospital about two weeks ago," Quintana said by phone. "He was more than poet he was a leader in his own right. He's going to be missed and our condolences go out to his family today."
Quintana recalled Baraka's role in the 1970 Black and Puerto Rican convention, a landmark political meeting that resulted in the election of Ken Gibson, Newark's first black mayor.
"We're going to remember him always for his contributions to Newark, New Jersey and America," Quintana said. "In this time of pain, the citizens of Newark and I are with him."

Baraka had long struggled with diabetes, but it was not immediately clear what the cause of death was.

A Newark native and resident formerly known as Leroi Jones, Amiri Baraka has published dozens of poems, essays and works of non-fiction. In 1963 Amiri Baraka wrote "Blues People," an in-depth history of music from the time of slavery throughout the various incarnations of blues and jazz, with integrated social commentary. The book's 50th anniversary was recently celebrated during an event at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
Poet Amiri Baraka reads a poem about Sarah VaughanAuthor Amiri Baraka, who turns 75 next week, reads his poetry at Skippers Pub in Newark. The poem entitled, "The Lullabye of Avon Avenue" is about American jazz singer and Newarker, Sarah Vaughan. Starting tomorrow, several commemorative events are planned in the city to examine his career as an artist and activist. (Video by Noah K. Murray / The Star-Ledger)
Baraka was also the state's poet laureate for a short time in 2002 and 2003.
Newark City Council President Mildred Crump, a longtime friend of the Baraka family, said the world lost one of its pre-eminent literary figures today.

“Not only has New Jersey, but the United States of America, has lost a great human being. He was a legend in his own lifetime," Crump said. "It is such a loss, such a great loss."

Crump said Baraka's condition had been improving, and he was breathing on his own when she last visited him on Sunday. The Baraka family has been lining Beth Israel Medical Center for weeks, according to Crump.

“He fought a good fight. I was there the first night he went into the hospital," Crump said. "I was there when he was breathing on his own, I was there Sunday."
Crump said her first association with Baraka came in the 1970s, when he led the charge to build Kawaida Towers, a planned 100-acre housing project that was meant to embody the Black Power movement that Amiri had long been a champion of.
"That's when he became my hero," Crump said.
Star-Ledger Staff Writer James Queally contributed to this report.


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