On February 4, at New York University, poetry love, and hundreds of black arts devotees filled two rooms to honor activists Jayne Cortez (1934 - 2012) and Amiri Baraka (1934 - 2014) for their key roles as artists, teachers, and their influential participation in the Black Arts Movement.
Baraka's death on January 4 was still fresh in the minds of many attendees, of which included Sandra Maria Esteves, Rashidah Ismaili (event host), Linton Kwesi Johnson, Felipe Luciano, Haki Madhubuti, Arthur Pfister, Askia Toure, Quincy Troupe, Ted Wilson, and Marvin X. All of whom took the stage to play the blues.
Ironically, the event was organized by Baraka to pay tribute to his friend poet Jayne Cortez. Sadly, after his death, Baraka became one of the event's honored ancestors.
During his life he never seemed to suffer fools well. His response to a question or issue was always refracted through a spared-down honesty. In 2010, at The Studio Museum in Harlem, Baraka (in conversation with writer Norman Kelly) challenged the audience to stop criticizing white-media control and start contributing to the discourse by creating our own publications. Mosaic was already in its twelfth year but I needed to hear this. I needed to hear from someone who understood the selflessness of belief—making a way out of no way is important.
Baraka's death, which was preceded by a hospital stay, was not the abrupt cleave of a traumatic end. There was time to think about a world with less fire. His words will continue to burn. The voice will strengthen, edges smoothed as his literary heirs steer his legacy towards the center—as the academy deems worthiness. This is to be expected. What cannot be filtered was his commitment to courageous thought.
And Conor Tomas Reed
, "Amiri Baraka: Rest in Perpetual Power" (Mosaic
In mid-2013, I finally met Amiri at a CUNY Graduate Center event celebrating his friend the poet Ed Dorn. Amiri was stooped, lean, and measured, a compact man who seemed his age ... until he took the podium. His loud melodic voice had the room rolling with bawdy jokes, then murmuring at how he and Dorn tried to fuse poetry and historiography in a time of enforced forgetting, and then stone-silent as he described how Dorn's time-loop kinship to white insurgent John Brown needed to be woven again by people in that room. And with a final blued note of mischievous gratitude, he stepped down and took his seat.
As ruling-class eulogies now choose to excoriate and obscure Amiri Baraka—some having been written before he even died—I urge us all to share his work widely, and listen to the reflections of those who directly encountered his fiercely inspiring, radically loving presence.