It’s a sad time in the literary world. Controversial poet and author Amiri Baraka died yesterday in a Newark, New Jersey hospital. Baraka, whose real name is LeRoi Jones, had been in the intensive care unit since December 23. The last Poet Lauret of New Jersey suffered from diabetes for years, but the actual cause of death has yet to be determined.
While Baraka had been battling health problems for some time, his friends and family believed he would make a full recovery. In fact, the family spokesperson Frank Baraff told The New York Daily News in December, “His condition continues to improve. It’s not a dire situation.”
Amiri Baraka will be remembered for using his gift of spoken word to effect change in the African-American community. After taking a Muslim name after the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, Baraka helped organize the 1970 Black and Puerto Rican Convention, which helped get the first black mayor of Newark elected.
Baraka was never a stranger to controversy. In 2003, his position as New Jersey’s Poet Laurette was eliminated after he wrote a poem called “Somebody Blew Up America.” The poem suggested Israel knew about the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
“I went to visit him at the hospital about two weeks ago. He was more than a poet, he was a leader in his own right,” Newark mayor Luis Quintana said of Baraka. “He’s going to be missed and our condolences go out to his family today.”