LeRoi Jones

(b. 1934)

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New Jersey-born militant black author, reared in a middle-class environment, attended Rutgers and Howard University (A.B., 1954), served in the Strategic Air Command (1954–57), and studied philosophy and German literature respectively at Columbia and The New School for Social Research before becoming a revolutionary spokesman for his people. He turned his back on Greenwich Village, on the personal and romantic expression that marked his first poetry, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note (1961), divorced his white wife, took the name Imamu Amiri Baraka (1965) as part of his commitment to Afro-Americanism, and founded a black community center, Spirit House, in Newark. An intense black nationalist, he lashes out at whites in his violent one-act plays, Dutchman, The Slave, and The Toilet (1964). His bitterness and frustration are also evident in his episodic novel The System of Dante's Hell (1965), equating Newark slums and the Inferno. Anguish, violent response, and lyrical appreciation of the black spirit mark succeeding volumes of poetry: The Dead Lecturer (1964), Black Magic… (1969), and In Our Terribleness (1971). Further plays include A Recent Killing (1964), about an aviator intent upon becoming a poet, and the one-act Four Black Revolutionary Plays (1969). His stories, some of them clearly autobiographical, are collected in Tales (1967). His nonfiction includes Blues People (1963), on jazz as an expression of the black people in white America; Black Music (1967); Black Art (1967); and Black Magic (1969). Essays are collected in Home (1966), powerful social statements for a black nation, and Raise Race Rays Raze (1971), written in a black idiom. He has also published A Black Value System (1969), Spirit Reach (1972), and African Revolution (1973). His Selected Plays and Prose and Selected Poetry were both published in 1979. The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones appeared in 1984.

Subjects: Literature.

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