Resolution J2954-2013

Mourning the death of Amiri Baraka, influential African American writer of poetry, drama, fiction, essays and music criticism



  • Jan 17, 2014: REFERRED TO FINANCE


LEGISLATIVE  RESOLUTION  mourning the death of Amiri Baraka, influential
African American writer of poetry,  drama,  fiction,  essays  and  music

WHEREAS,  It is the sense of this Legislative Body to pay tribute to the
lives  of  those  prominent  individuals  who  distinguished  themselves
through their life's work; and
  WHEREAS, It is with great sorrow and deep regret that this Legislative
Body  records  the passing of Amiri Baraka who died on Thursday, January
9, 2014, at the age of 79, noting the  significance  of  his  purposeful
life and accomplishments; and
  WHEREAS,  Amiri  Baraka  was  an  American  writer  of  poetry, drama,
fiction, essays and music criticism, and the author of numerous books of
poetry and taught at a  number  of  universities,  including  the  State
University  of  New York at Buffalo and the State University of New York
at Stony Brook; and
  WHEREAS, Amiri Baraka received the PEN Open Book Award, formerly known
as the Beyond Margins Award, in 2008 for TALES OF THE OUT AND THE  GONE;
known  to  some  as  one of the most respected and most widely published
Black writers of his generation; and
  WHEREAS, Born Everett LeRoi Jones on October 7, 1934, in  Newark,  New
Jersey,  Amiri  Baraka was formerly known as LeRoi Jones and Imamu Amear
Baraka; his father, Coyt Leverette Jones, worked as a postal  supervisor
and  lift operator, and his mother, Anna Lois Russ, was a social worker;
  WHEREAS, He attended Barringer High School, and in  1967,  he  adopted
the  Muslim  name  Imamu  Amear  Baraka, which he later changed to Amiri
Baraka; as a child, he was transfixed by poetry and music; and
  WHEREAS, In 1951, Amiri Baraka won a scholarship to Rutgers  Universi-
ty,  and  one year later, he transferred to Howard University; his major
fields of study were philosophy and religion; he also studied at  Colum-
bia University and the New School for Social Research; and
  WHEREAS, In 1954, Amiri Baraka joined the United States Air Force as a
gunner,  reaching the rank of sergeant; after being discharged, he moved
to Greenwich Village working initially in a warehouse for music records;
  WHEREAS, It was at this time Amiri Baraka's interest in jazz began; he
came into contact with avant-garde Beat Generation, Black Mountain poets
and New York School poets; and
  WHEREAS, In 1958, Amiri Baraka married Hettie Cohen, with whom he  had
two daughters, Kellie Jones and Lisa Jones; and
  WHEREAS,  Together,  Amiri  and  Hettie  founded  TOTEM  PRESS,  which
published such Beat icons as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg; they  also
jointly founded a quarterly literary magazine YUGEN, which ran for eight
issues from 1958 until 1962; and
  WHEREAS, Furthermore, Amiri Baraka worked as editor and critic for the
literary  and  arts  journal  KULCHUR from 1960 through 1965; along with
Diane di Prima, he edited the first 25 issues from 1961  until  1963  of
their magazine THE FLOATING BEAR; and
  WHEREAS,  In  1961, Amiri Baraka published his first book of poems; he
also co-founded the New York Poets Theatre with Diane di Prima, choreog-
raphers Fred Herko and James Waring, and actor Alan S. Marlowe; in  June
of 1962, his daughter, Dominique di Prima was born; and
  WHEREAS,  In  1963,  Amiri  Baraka wrote a book called BLUES PEOPLE, a
volume of jazz criticism, many believe to be his  signature  work,  that
changed people's ideas about the importance of African American culture;

  WHEREAS,  The assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, during the height of
the Civil Rights movement, motivated Amiri  Baraka  to  move  to  Harlem
where  he  had  an  extensive  presence;  he founded the Black Repertory
Theatre/School in Harlem, and became one of the key figures at the fore-
front  of the Black Arts Movement - Black Aesthetic Movement (BAM) which
included other notable African American  literary  pioneers  and  giants
such as Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Maya Angelou, Hoyt W.  Fuller and
Rosa Guy; and
  WHEREAS,  The  Black  Arts  Movement  was inspired by the Civil Rights
Movement, specifically the teachings of the  Nation  of  Islam  and  the
Black  Power  Movement,  and is considered to be one of the most signif-
icant periods of African American literature; and
  WHEREAS, The Black Arts Movement would endure until the mid 1970s  and
change  the  face  of  literature  and arts by inspiring and encouraging
diverse literary and artistic works that reflected the  various  experi-
ences  of  African  American politics, culture and history during one of
the most pivotal eras in our country's history; and
  WHEREAS, In 1966, Amiri married his second wife, Sylvia Robinson,  who
later adopted the name Amina Baraka; and
  WHEREAS,  In  1967, he lectured at San Francisco State University, and
his second book of jazz criticism came out, BLACK MUSIC, a collection of
previously published music journalism, including the seminal APPLE CORES
columns from DOWN BEAT magazine; and
  WHEREAS, That same year, Amiri  Baraka,  still  LeRoi  Jones,  visited
Maulana  Karenga in Los Angeles and became an advocate of his philosophy
of  Kawaida,  a  multifaceted,  categorized  activist  philosophy   that
produced the "Nguzo Saba," Kwanzaa, and an emphasis on African names; it
was at this time that he adopted the name Imamu Amear Baraka; Imamu is a
Swahili  title  for  "spiritual leader" which is derived from the Arabic
word Imam; he dropped the honorific Imamu and eventually changed  Amear,
which means Prince, to Amiri, and Baraka means blessing; and
  WHEREAS,  In  1979,  he  became a lecturer in Stony Brook University's
Africana Studies Department and was recognized by the Guggenheim Founda-
tion and the National Endowment for the Arts; and
  WHEREAS, During the 1982-1983 academic year, Amiri Baraka was a visit-
ing professor at Columbia University, where he taught a course  entitled
"Black Women and Their Fictions"; in 1984, he became a full professor at
Rutgers  University;  the  following  year,  he returned to Stony Brook,
eventually becoming professor emeritus of African Studies; and
  WHEREAS, In 1987, together with Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, he was
.SO DOC S R2954                                  RESO TEXT            2013
a speaker at the commemoration ceremony  for  James  Baldwin;  in  1989,
Amiri Baraka won an American Book Award for his works as well as a Lang-
ston Hughes Award; and
  WHEREAS,  In  1990,  he co-authored the autobiography of Quincy Jones,
and in 1998, was a supporting actor in Warren Beatty's film  "Bulworth";
in  1996,  he  contributed to the AIDS benefit album "Offbeat: A Red Hot
Soundtrip" produced by the Red Hot Organization; and
  WHEREAS, In July of 2002, Amiri Baraka was named Poet Laureate of  New
Jersey by Governor Jim McGreevey; and
  WHEREAS, Amiri Baraka collaborated with hip-hop group The Roots on the
song  "Something  in  the  Way  of Things (In Town)" on their 2002 album
Phrenology; in 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante included Amiri Baraka on
his list of 100 Greatest African Americans; and
  WHEREAS, As an influential ambassador for  African  American  cultural
arts  as  well  as a spokesperson for social justice, Amiri Baraka truly
distinguished himself as a powerful guiding  force  for  generations  of
African American poets, writers and musicians, and civil rights leaders;
now, therefore, be it

  RESOLVED,  That  this  Legislative  Body pause in its deliberations to
mourn the death of Amiri Baraka, prominent African  American  writer  of
poetry, drama, fiction, essays and music criticism; and be it further
  RESOLVED, That a copy of this Resolution, suitably engrossed, be tran-
smitted to the family of Amiri Baraka.


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