LAWRENCE — The Langston Hughes Center, the Department of African & African American Studies and the University of Kansas community will honor and remember Amiri Baraka (1934-2014), a poet, playwright, novelist, music critic and political activist.
The commemoration, Remembering the Art, Politics, and Legacy of Amiri Baraka, will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, at Alderson Auditorium in the Kansas Union. The event will consist of commentary and readings by Tony Bolden, associate professor of African & African American Studies; Darren Canady, assistant professor of English; Nicole Hodges Persley, assistant professor of theatre, and William J. Harris, associate professor of English and editor of the influential “The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader” (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1991).
Widely recognized as the father of the Black Arts Movement in Harlem in the 1960s, Baraka is author of more than 40 books of essays, poems, drama, fiction, memoirs, music history and criticism. A political activist, Baraka’s commitment to social justice as an American writer is widely respected.
Baraka’s first volume of poetry, “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note,” was published in 1961, and his most recent book, Razor: Revolutionary Art for Cultural Revolution, was published 2011.
In 1963, Baraka’s signature study of African-American music was published in “Blues People: Negro Music in White America.” That same year, he established himself as a playwright with the publication of “Dutchman,” a controversial drama that won an Obie Award and later was made into a film.
His long list of books range from “Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones,” published in 1979, to “The Music” written by Baraka and his wife, Amina, also a poet, and published in 1987, to a recent collection of essays “The Essence of Reparations,” published in 2003. The essays explore what Baraka suggests will “become a 21st century watershed movement of black peoples” involving the issues he has been addressing for many years — racism, national oppression, colonialism, neo-colonialism, self-determination and national and human liberation.
Baraka is poet laureate of New Jersey and had taught at Yale University, Columbia University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He is the subject of documentary films including Mario Van Peebles’ “Poetic License” and St. Clair Bourne’s “In Motion: Amiri Baraka.”
His many literary prizes and honors include the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, the James Weldon Johnson Medal for contributions to the arts, the Langston Hughes Award from the City College of New York and grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.