Compelling, controversial, multifaceted belletrist Amiri Baraka endured a series of lifestyle changes and a dramatic intellectual and creative evolution over time, but ultimately came to symbolize the perfect union of personal literary expression and racially charged political activism. A New Jersey native, born LeRoy Jones (he later modified it to LeRoi to reflect a French sensibility), Baraka attended Howard University and studied under giants including E. Franklin Frazier and Nathan A. Scott Jr. (both of whom influenced him enormously), then enlisted in the U.S. Army, but received a forced, dishonorable discharge. Thus began a second phase of Baraka's life that witnessed him moving to arts haven Greenwich Village and fraternizing with Beat authors, including Frank O'Hara and Allen Ginsberg, and that found him publishing a couple of seminal literary reviews in Yugen and The Floating Bear from 1958-1963. He experienced extreme politicization at the hands of leftist Cuban intellectuals during a trip to that island nation in 1960 (contacts who encouraged him to reinvent his approach to literary craftsmanship), but the shooting death of Malcolm X in 1965 prompted him to change paths once again and become a Black Cultural Nationalist. In the late '60s, he moved back to Newark, NJ, and changed his name to Amiri Baraka, or "Blessed Prince," before ultimately accepting a position as Professor of African Studies at SUNY-Stonybrook.
Baraka's bibliography includes such titles as the short-story collection Tales (1967), the poetry anthology Black Magic (1967), and the play Dutchman (1964). Cinematically, he signed for dramatic roles in the features Bulworth (1998) and Piñero (2001), and participated in documentaries including Poetic License (2004), Revolution '67 (2007), and Obscene (2007).