COLUMBIA — Decades before Amiri Baraka was ousted as poet laureate of New Jersey, he was LeRoi Jones, founder of the Black Arts movement, a 1960s revolution in African-American culture.
He was a central figure in the early days of the Black Arts movement, which strove to establish a voice for African-American artists, according to Kalamu ya Salaam’s article in “The Oxford Companion to African American Literature.” Jones changed his name to Amiri Baraka in the late 1960s.
Baraka will speak at MU this week about African-American arts, culture and politics.
Brianni Nelson, senior chairwoman of the Black Programming Committee, which is bringing Baraka to campus, said his message teaches people to “just not accept mediocrity as OK — to push and to strive for something greater than that.”
Born in 1934, Baraka has a lengthy list of achievements, including an Obie Award, the James Weldon Johnson Medal for contributions to the arts and National Endowment for the Arts grants. Although the content of his work is often deemed inflammatory, he is a playwright and a poet and has written more than 40 books.
As poet laureate of New Jersey, Baraka became the center of controversy for his post-Sept. 11 poem “Somebody Blew Up America.” The poem contained several lines that implied Israel was complicit in the events. New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey attempted to remove Baraka from the position but found no legal way to do so. Instead, the state dissolved the poet laureate position.
Nelson said that although Baraka can be a controversial figure, his words encourage young artists to “create things with social, cultural and political relevance.”
A Poem for Speculative Hipsters
He had got, finally,
to the forest
of motives. There were no
owls, or hunters. No Connie Chatterleys
on their backs, having casually
and their opposites
he was really
Reprinted with permission from Celeste Bateman & Associates, agent for Amiri Baraka.