Amiri Baraka

African-American writer (1934-2014)

Amiri Baraka (October 7, 1934 – January 9, 2014), previously known as LeRoi Jones and Imamu Amear Baraka, was an African-American writer of poetry, drama, fiction, essays and music criticism.

Amiri Baraka


  • One of the most persistent traits of of the Western white man has always been his fanatical and almost instinctive assumption that his systems and ideas about the world are the most desirable, and further that people who do not aspire to to them, or at least think them admirable, are savages or enemies. The idea that Western thought might be exotic if viewed from another landscape never presents itself to most Westerners.
    • Blues People: Negro Music in White America (1963), p. 8
  • The poor Negro always remembered himself as an ex-slave and used this as the basis of any dealings with the mainstream of American society. The middle class black man bases his whole existence on the hopeless hypothesis that no one is supposed to remember that for almost three hundred years there was slavery in America, that the white man was a master, the black man a slave. This knowledge, however, is at the root of the legitimate black culture of this country. It is this knowledge, with its attendant muses of self-division, self-hatred, stoicism, and finally quixotic optimism, that informs the most meaningful of Afro-American music.
    • Blues People: Negro Music in White America (1963), p. 136
  • The Black Artist's role in America is to aid in the destruction of America as he knows it. His role is to report and reflect so precisely the nature of the society, and of himself, in that society, that other men will be moved by the exactness of his rendering, and if they are black men, grow strong through this moving, having seen their own strength, and weakness, and if they are white men, tremble, curse, and go mad, because they will be drenched with the filth of their evil.
  • I guess I was the most unbohemian of all bohemians. My bohemianism consisted of not wanting to get involved with the stupid stuff that I thought people wanted you to get involved with — ... namely America...
  • So he gave me an Arab name; he gave me the name Amir Barakat. But I didn't want an Arab name ... [so] I took the name and Swahili-ized it and Bantu-ized it, and changed it from Amir to Amiri and from Barakat to Baraka to make it a Swahili name — the same kind of name you'd find in Tanzania or Uganda or Kenya. Now, of course I'm no longer in a cultural nationalist movement, but I'd be the only one in my family with an American name.

Quotes about BarakaEdit

  • LeRoi Jones was also one of the popular poets of the 1968 generation. His most famous line was fast becoming “Up against the wall motherfucker this is a stick-up.” A 1967 East Village “affinity group” named themselves “the Motherfuckers” after the Jones poem. An affinity group used intense intellectual debates as an underpinning for carrying out the kind of media-grabbing street theater that Abbie Hoffman could do so well. During the New York City garbage strike, the Motherfuckers hauled garbage by subway from the redolent mountains of it left on the sidewalks to the newly opened Lincoln Center.

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