Legendary poet and activist Amiri Baraka died today at the age of 79 years old. Although the cause of death was not immediately known, nj.com reports that he had a long standing struggle with diabetes. He was hospitalized in December and was was labeled being in critical condition.
Here is what you need to know about this beloved and controversial figure.
1. He Was Born and Raised in Newark, New Jersey
Born Everett LeRoi Jones in Newark in 1934, Baraka was raised in a working class family. After two years at Rutgers University he transferred to Howard University and graduated in 1945.
2. He Is Associated With the Beat Generation & the New York School
After a brief stint in the air force, Baraka, then still called LeRoi Jones, moved to New York City. Due to his interest in the New York jazz scene, Baraka fell in with the Beat Generation.
3. He Was an Important Civil Rights Figure
In the 1960s, Baraka became a firm supporter of Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba due to its progressive racial policies at a time when segregation was still being strongly upheld in the United States.
Baraka also became a follower of Malcolm X’s brand of black nationalism, moving to Harlem after Malcolm’s assassination in 1965 and changing his named to Amiri Baraka in 1967.
4. He Was Poet Laureate of New Jersey
Barka became poet laureate of New Jersey in 2002 and was quickly called on to resign after reading a controversial poem about September 11. People were offended by the poem, “Somebody Blew Up America,” which inferred that Israel knew about the September 11 attacks before they happened.
5. He Has Been Embroiled in a Few Controversies
Baraka has been the recipient of much criticism over the years because of his open support of Fidel Castro’s Cuba, his reverence for Lenninist-Marxism, and his previously mentioned thoughts about the September 11 attacks.