Amiri Baraka
A well known African-American writer of fiction, drama, poetry, and music, Amiri Baraka has received the PEN Open Book Award for such books as Tales of the Out and the Gone and established himself as one of the most preeminent antiestablishment writers of his generation. Aside from writing, Baraka has been described as a revolutionary political activist who has written articles and lectured widely throughout the world. Born as LeRoi Jones in 1934 Newark, New Jersey, Baraka studied at Rutgers and then Howard University before going on to Colombia University where he majored in philosophy and religion. Joining the US Air Force in 1954, Baraka rose to the rank of sergeant before being dishonorably discharged under suspicion of communist sympathies.

Following his return to civil life, Baraka discovered jazz music and began to write poetry under the influence of John Coltrane, Malcolm X, Ornette Coleman, and Thelonius Monk. Baraka founded Totem Press in 1958 which published such poetry icons as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg in the literary magazine Yugen. It was through this publications as well as his work as an editor of Kulcher and Floating Bear (in partnership with Diane DiPrima) that Baraka began his various associations with the Black Mountain Poets, the New York School Poets, and the Beat Poets. A collection of essays entitled "The Essence of Reparations" and radical poems in Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note earned Baraka his first true critical acclaim. More success followed with his volume jazz criticism, Blues People: Negro Music in White America (1963), and his controversial Obie Award-winning play, Dutchman (1964).

As Baraka moved into his black nationalist phase, his poem "Black Art" (1965) became a rallying cry to everyone seeking armed struggle against the white power structure. Adopting the Muslim name Imamu Amear Baraka in 1967, the poet later simplified this moniker to Amiri Baraka. Much of his work from the 1960s onward focuses on the black experience in America and the post-colonial legacies of other former slave-holding nations. Many of his poems combine this meditation on racial inequity with a social class lens to create an emotive performance not unlike a sermon in its tone and rhythm, although Baraka's use of colloquial obscenity and aggressive word play create a poetic experience designed to establish an ideological positions which all but dares the audience to resist. By the mid-70s, Baraka was distancing himself from black nationalism and was opening referring to himself as simply a Marxist.

Baraka's work has drawn criticism at times due to the themes of rape and violence that are sometimes directed against women, gay people, white people, and Jews. While such critics have cited Baraka's earlier work as being rife with subtle forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, and antisemitism, others have described the works as coming forth from vernacular expressions of Black oppression. Baraka himself has since described that writing as born from the anger of a bystander to so many political assassinations including John Kennedy, Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy. These controversies were again stoked in 2001 when Baraka composed the radical poem "Somebody Blewup America" which suggests an American-Israeli conspiracy of fore-knowledge regarding the attacks on 09/11. Despite such controversy, or perhaps because of it, Baraka's poetry continues to tantalize readers with everyday speech framed around the black/white culture divide and proves that, at least for Baraka, political considerations can never be truly removed from the content of an artwork.