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Controversial Writer, Activist Amiri Baraka Dies At Age 79

The poet and author is considered one of the most influential writers of his generation, but his work was often called too extreme.
Posted at 10:11 PM, Jan 09, 2014

Amiri Baraka, known as one of the most influential writers of his generation, died at a hospital in Newark, New Jersey Thursday. He was 79 years old.

His son told NPR Baraka passed away “from complications after surgery following a long illness.” He had been in the hospital since December.

“Africa … Africa…” 

Baraka left behind more than a half-century’s worth of poems, books and plays. He was also a teacher and prominent activist. (Via YouTube / mediasanctuary)

“He was a published poet and playwright for nearly six decades, known for being controversial and provocative. He explored the issues of race and gender starting at the height of the civil rights era.” (Via WNBC)

“One of his most famous books, 'Blues People,' an in-depth history of blues and jazz music from the time of slavery, was published 50 years ago.” (Via News 12 New Jersey)

In the 1960s and 70s, Baraka was a part of various organizations working to increase African American political power. He also led the Black Arts Movement, which was seen as the artistic branch of the Black Power movement. (Via Los Angeles Times)

Gawker says by the mid 1970s, Baraka declared himself a Marxist and an “advocate for international liberation movements.”

In 2002, he wrote a controversial poem called “Somebody Blew Up America?” which critics claimed was anti-semetic. The poem cost him his spot as Poet Laureate of New Jersey. (Via The Wall Street Journal)

The New York Times reports Baraka faced criticism over his work through his entire career, saying it was “periodically accused of being anti-Semitic, misogynist, homophobic, racist isolationist and dangerously militant.”

But turmoil and all, Baraka remained confident in his work and who he was. In an interview with NPR in 2007, Baraka was asked to define himself.

“Well, I guess as a poet and a political activist most consistently. I mean I've written in all genres. … Throughout all of that the poetry is at the base of it.” (Via NPR, AmiriBaraka.com)