Amiri Baraka, former N.J. poet laureate and prolific author, dead at 79
NEWARK — Amiri Baraka, the longtime activist and former poet laureate of New Jersey died today, officials confirmed. He was 79 years old.
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.
In 1964, Baraka published the book of poetry, “Dead Lecturer” that marked a significant transition in his career. Also written under the name Leroi Jones, the book featured more traditional poems but also laid the groundwork for the more radical, experimental work that would come to define his later career.
“He was able to put music into the work, even reading the work,” said Maria Maziotti Gillan, a poet and the director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College. “Mostly he was able to capture an audience when he spoke. He was a able to capture an audience through his poetry but also through what he had to say.”