Imamu Amiri Baraka Essay, Research Paper
Imamu Amiri Baraka
Imamu Amiri Baraka is a poet and playwright that became well known in the late sixties and early seventies. He wrote many controversial poems and plays such as Dutchman , and poems such as the collection A Preface to a 20 Volume Suicide Note Baraka dealt with many issues ranging from homosexuality to racsism. In his lifetime Baraka has experihenced much racsism due to him being African-American. He never backed down from his critics though and kept on writing the same controversial poems and plays.
Imamu Amiri Baraka was originally born to the name Everett Leroy Jones on October 7, 1934, in Newark, New Jersey. As a young child he spent his time writing comic strips and science fiction stories, however as a young child he wanted to be a minister because they were the most respected leaders in the black community. He changed his mind later quoting There are to many homosexuals in the church for me. After High School he enrolled at Rutgers University and then changed the spelling of his name to LeRoi Jones. He then went on and transferred to Howard University, but he found Howard too difficult and he eventually dropped out. From 1954 to 1957 Baraka served in the U.S. Air Force, in the Air Force he wrote a daily journal. After being dishonorably discharged from the Air Force due to circumstances undisclosed. After his service he moved to New York s Greenwich Village. In 1958 he got married to a white Jewish woman by the name of Hettie Cohen. This is when he first started to publish his Poetry. In 1961 Baraka earned much respect among fellow poets by writing Preface to a 20 Volume Suicide note Later in that year he hit a philosophical turning point when he produced his first play called Dente . In 1965 he divorced his wife and moved to Harlem where he joined a Black Panther group. Later in that same year he produced his finest work a play called Dutchman , a very controversial play that will be cover later. The death of Malcolm X solidified his hate for whites. That same year in Harlem, he founded the Black Arts theatre/school the plays were made for blacks only and very rarely contained white critics opinons. (Discovering Authors).
Baraka earned praise and respect for his collection of poems Preface to a 20 Volume Suicide Note which included Babylon Revisited and Incident which were just some of his more controversial poems(Discovering Authors). This is an excerpt from Babylon Revisited :
This bitch killed a friend of mine named Bob Thompson
a black painter, a giant, once, she reduced
to a pitiful imitation faggot
full of American holes and a monkey on his back
slapped airplanes from the Empire State Building
May this bitch and her sisters, all of them,
Receive my words
In all their orifices like lye mixed
Cocola and alaga syrup
Feel this shit, bitches, feel it, now laugh your
While your flesh burns
And your eyes peel to red mud (www.cs.berkely.edu/).
This poem shows just how much hatred he had for whites and it also showed how he dealt with racism and homosexuality. After these poems he got his first play produced which was Dante the play was respected by other black poets but never had a big impact outside of Harlem. His next play was Baptism described to be a surrealist imagination. After Baptism he produced a couple of his more notable plays such as The Toilet and The Slave which were mainly focused on homosexuality in adolescence and the racism that they faced(Discovering Authors). His next play The Slave was focused on a confrontation of a black poet with a white woman, some critics have said that this play was actually based on Baraka s earlier life when he was married to Cohen. His next play was his greatest piece of work which was named Dutchman it was about a white woman named Lula who makes fun of a Black man for trying to be white. It won an Obie for best off-broadway play. He has published many other poems and essays in unrecorded pamphlets(www.africana.com).
The piece of work that Baraka is best known for is the play that is called Dutchman . This play among some critics is considered a masterpiece; it is hailed for its freshness and power that it brought to the stage. The play won an Obie award for the best off-Broadway play. The play focuses on the encounter of Lula, an attractive white women, and Clay an intelligent, well-dressed, black man. Lula accuses Clay of trying to act white. This is a scene from Dutchman in which Lula says:
You middle class black bastard, you liver lipped white man, you ain t no nigger, your just a dirty white man. Clay disgusted with her explodes in rage I sit here in this buttoned up suit to keep myself from cutting all your throats. If I am a middle class fake white man; let me be. The only thing that would clear my neurosis would be your murder. Feeling disgusted Lula stabs clay to death, as the play ends, Lula turns towards another black man who has just entered the subway.
Norman Mailer called it the best play in America and this is the way many critics saw it(Discovering Authors). While others were outraged the play used such profanity and that the play disguised all whites to be like Lula(www.kirjasto.sci.fi/baraka.htm). Baraka snapped back quoting Lula is not meant to represent white people; as some critics have thought; but America itself the spirit of America the play is about difficulty of becoming and remaining a man in America Manhood; black or white is not wanted here (Discovering Authors). I thought this scene had an abstract view to it, but what I really didn t understand was why he had assumed that all whites were racist. One reason he might have had so much hate for whites would be the racism that he faced in the Air Force school or at Howard. To me the theme of the play was that no matter how hard an African-American tries they will never measure up to a supreme white society.
Amiri Baraka dealt with the issues of racism and homosexuality during a very tense time in American history. He brought much controversy to these issues and he never backed down from his critics. His ideas were strange and need a lot of thought applied to them before you can truly understand them. Amiri Baraka is truly a unique personality that made some of the finest modern African-American poems and plays.