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Amiri Baraka (Le Roi Jones 1934-2014)

Amiri Baraka (Le Roi Jones 1934-2014)

When Le Roi Jones’s volume of poems, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, appeared from Totem / Corinth in 1961 it had a Basil King drawing on the cover and it had a poem titled ‘Way Out West’ half way through it.


As simple an act

as opening the eyes. Merely

coming into things by degrees.


Basil King was over here in England at the end of last year and he talked and read, along with his wife Martha, at Kent University amongst many other places. Basil had also worked alongside Le Roi Jones in the late 1950s when he provided the covers for the magazine which Le Roi edited along with Hettie Cohen, Yugen. Yugen closed down in 1962 after number 8 but not before the starting up of The Floating Bear, a newsletter, edited by Jones and Diane di Prima.  The Addenda to that issue number 8 of Yugen gives its readers the following information:


The newsletter, The Floating Bear, and its editors, Le Roi Jones and Diane di Prima, were cleared in April of obscenity charges stemming from their publication of a section of Jones’ System of Dante’s Hell and William Burroughs’ satire, The Routine.


That little note at the end also gives an update on what Le Roi Jones was up to, including editing Corinth’s fiction anthology, Avant Garde American Fiction, ‘which will include such prose writers as Fielding Dawson, Burroughs, Kerouac, Rumaker, Selby, Creeley, Douglas Woolf, Irving Rosenthal, Herbert Huncke, Paul Metcalfe, Diane Di Prima, and others’.

Had he had lived Amiri Baraka was due to come over to London this year to attend the University of Canterbury’s one-day conference, Baraka at 80, to be held at the ICA on 12th April.


The very last sentence in that last Yugen issue is:


‘At all other places they cremate them; Here we bury them alive’.

Farewell to a most important poet, dramatist, short-story writer, editor and major figure throughout the past fifty years.


Ian Brinton January 10th 2014



5 responses »

  1. Dear Ian —

    This is lovely. Thank you! As it happened, two hours before Baz was to give a presentation at the Asheville Museum (a screening of the BK film, a reading from *Learning to Draw* and a discussion of current exhibitions at the museum — one of them has a BK painting in it) — I opened the emails and we learned of Roi’s death.

    In a way it was expected as he was hospitalized just before Christmas Eve. But it wasn’t. The family had closed ranks and put out hopeful messages, which of course we all wanted to believe.

    As you can imagine, we were both really shaken. Baz doesn’t often do such a thing, but it was impossible to go on without dedicating the presentation to Roi.

    Is the recognition of Baraka’s 80th anniversary to be postponed? or re-shaped?

    All the best — Martha & Baz

    • Hello Martha & Baz.
      Grim news indeed! One of the old irascibles gone now and the world is thinner for it. As far as I am aware this news does not have an effect on the University of Kent Conference in terms of its going ahead but I’ll certainly keep you in touch with any updates.

      • The world is indeed thinner for his passing.

        He published Ed Dorn’s first book of poetry, The Newly Fallen, through Totem Press in 1961, and provided an Afterword to Dorn’s Collected Poems (Carcanet Press, 2012).

  2. Do not forget that equal to his literary work Amiri Baraka was a vital historian of jazz and blues music. Anthony Barnett


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