Amiri Baraka, the legendary African-American playwright and former Poet Laureate of New Jersey, has been hospitalized, according to a broadcast report by Roland Martin. The radio and television host of NewsOne Now announced the news on his Twitter handle as well as his radio program.
Not much is known about the condition of the poet who is reportedly receiving treatment at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. NewsOne will update this post as we get more information on Baraka’s health.
Over the last eight hours, an outpouring of support wishing the playwright a speedy recover is dominating Twitter:
Baraka, 79, has been praised throughout his literary career for speaking out against racism, but his works did not initially communicate a racial tonality. During the 1950s, Baraka lived in Greenwich Village, where he befriended Beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, and.
But his writing turned more politically aware during the rise of the Civil Rights Moment. The “Poetry Foundation” breakdown Baraka’s transition into the man the world knows him to be in 2013:
His trip to Cuba in 1959 marked an important turning point in his life. His view of his role as a writer, the purpose of art, and the degree to which ethnic awareness deserved to be his subject changed dramatically. In Cuba he met writers and artists from third world countries whose political concerns included the fight against poverty, famine, and oppressive governments. In Home: Social Essays (1966), Baraka explains how he tried to defend himself against their accusations of self-indulgence, and was further challenged by Jaime Shelley, a Mexican poet, who said, “‘In that ugliness you live in, you want to cultivate your soul? Well, we’ve got millions of starving people to feed, and that moves me enough to make poems out of.’” Soon Baraka began to identify with third world writers and to write poems and plays with strong political messages.
Dutchman, a play of entrapment in which a white woman and a middle-class black man both express their murderous hatred on a subway, was first performed Off-Broadway in 1964. While other dramatists of the time were wedded to naturalism, Baraka used symbolism and other experimental techniques to enhance the play’s emotional impact. The play established Baraka’s reputation as a playwright and has been often anthologized and performed. It won the Village Voice Obie Award in 1964 and was later made into a film. The plays and poems following Dutchman express Baraka’s increasing disappointment with white America and his growing need to separate from it. Critics observed that as Baraka’s poems became more politically intense, they left behind some of the flawless technique of the earlier poems. Richard Howard wrote of The Dead Lecturer (1964) in the Nation: “These are the agonized poems of a man writing to save his skin, or at least to settle in it, and so urgent is their purpose that not one of them can trouble to be perfect.”
Baraka would go on to win some of America’s most prized literary awards, including the “American Book Award” in 2010 for Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music.
The writer’s most controversial piece of work to date came in September of 2002, just ten months after the Sept. 11 attacks, when he recited “Somebody Blew Up America” at the Dodge Poetry Festival in Waterloo, N.J. Baracka made a number of very controversial allegations in the poem, including lines alleging that George Bush and high-level Jewish officials knew that 9/11 was going to take place well before it occurred.
Listen to the poem here:
The poem was received harshly at the time and then-New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey tried to remove Baraka from the post of Poet Laureate of New Jersey, but could not legally do so. The New Jersey state legislature introduced a bill abolishing the post in 2002; the governor signed the bill into law in 2003, stripping Baraka of his post.
Ironically, McGreevey was forced to resign from the governorship in 2004 after it was revealed that he was involved in a sexual relationship with a man while he was married to his wife.
In 2010, Baraka spoke of the irony at the Dodge Poetry Festival where he recited the controversial poem again–this time, to cheers.
“I am the last Poet Laureate of New Jersey,” he told the crowd, moments before reading the poem. “Governor McGreevey asked me to apologize and resign, and then a year later he had to apologize and resign.”
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