(August 18, 1941 ~ December 27, 2013)
Someone at the New York Times should have their mouth washed out with soap at describing Amiri Baraka as "polarizing". Dick Cheney is polarizing, not Baraka. A man who was a poet, short story writer, novelist, essayist, teacher, lecturer, political activist, community organizer, playwright of note with an Obie Award and other celebrations, ground-cutting musicologist of the full bore jazz era — and young poets take note — with his first wife Hettie Cohen, editor and publisher of the literary magazine, Yugen, which published much of the great work of the Beats. On top of with Diane di Prima establishing a second literary magazine, The Floating Bear. These were magnificent homemade and enduring publications. Not self-published ground meal disappearing acts. A third act for Baraka was founding the small press Totem Press. Black Nationalism publications and anthologies would follow.
If anything, he was unique. Slight of figure. A rightful threat.
I had a friend who brought Baraka into one of the toughest correctional institutions in New York State to read and work poetry with the prisoners. She said he had them all dazzled and committed to song by the end of the visit. No surprise.