Mr. Baraka was famous as one of the major forces in the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and ’70s, which sought to duplicate in fiction, poetry, drama and other mediums the aims of the black power movement in the political arena.
Among his best-known works are the poetry collections “The Dead Lecturer” and “Transbluesency: The Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones, 1961-1995”; the play “Dutchman”; and “Blues People: Negro Music in White America,” a highly regarded historical survey.
One of his most contentious poems, Somebody Blew Up America (below), was highly controversial and caused his title and tenure as Poet Laureate of New Jersey to be removed. "Somebody Blew Up America" was criticized due to its closeness to the events of 9/11 and its seeming sympathy with the "truthers" and anti-Semitic overtones. Still, it is a powerful and often insightful poem that exemplifies the kind of edginess that is associated with his work. His diction and tempo is powerful. The provacative "who, who, who...?' deeply resonates for the listener.
He was a tireless advocate and spokesman against racism and poverty. As Jazz Corner notes in their summary of his book "Blues People":
Blues People argues that in their art, Louis Armstrong, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and countless other black bards confronted the forces of racism, poverty and Jim Crow. This gave birth to work songs, blues, gospel, New Orleans jazz, its Chicago and Kansas City swing extensions, the bebop revolution (which in turn spawned the so-called cool and hard bop schools), and the then-emerging avant-garde of the late '50s and early '60s, characterized by the forward-thinking artistry of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor.