Amiri Baraka on Charles Olson & Sun Ra in Gloucester, MA
Amiri Baraka—dramatist, novelist, poet, and activist—is one of the most respected and widely published African-American writers. He was born Everett LeRoi Jones in 1934 in Newark, NJ. After leaving Howard University and the Air Force, he moved to the Lower East Side in Manhattan. There, in 1957, he co-edited the avantgarde literary magazine Yugen and founded Totem Press, which first published works by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Charles Olson.
In May of 1959 he published Projective Verse and gave Olson a standing offer to publish anything he wished. Olson went on to have pieces published in Yugen, Kulchur and Floating Bear. Later that year Michael McClure, Phillip Whalen, Donald Allen and Jones visited Olson in Gloucester. Olson's tour with his friends resulted in his writing of Maximus from Dogtown – I. In a letter to Robert Creeley he says, "In fact the past year he (Jones) has saved my life in publishing..." With the beginning of Civil Rights Movements during the sixties, Baraka explored the anger of African-Americans and used his writings as a weapon against racism. He published his first volume of poetry, Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note, in 1961. His Blues People: Negro Music in White America (1963) is still regarded as the seminal work on Afro-American music and culture. He also edited The Moderns: An Anthology of New Writing in America, published in 1963.
His reputation as a playwright was established with the production of Dutchman at Cherry Lane Theatre in New York in 1964. The controversial play subsequently won an Obie Award for Best Off-Broadway Play and was made into a film. The play was revived by Cherry Lane Theatre in January 2007 and has been reproduced around the world. His numerous literary honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Rockefeller Foundation Award for Drama, the Langston Hughes Award from The City College of New York, and a lifetime achievement award from the Before Columbus Foundation.