Feb. 3, 2004 – New Jersey Poet Laureate Amiri Baraka will visit St. Thomas this weekend to promote his latest published works, "The Essence of Reparations" and "Somebody Blew Up America & Other Poems," released by The House of Nehesi Publishers, based in Sint Maarten.
On Friday from 6 to 8 p.m., Baraka will give a reading and speak about his often-controversial writing at the University of the Virgin Islands Little Theater. Earlier in the day, he will hold a book signing at the UVI bookstore.
On Saturday from 3 to 4 p.m., the poet and author will be on hand to sign his works at Dockside Bookshop in Havensight Mall.
A dramatist, poet, essayist, orator and fiction writer, Baraka gained prominence — initially using his birth name, LeRoi Jones — during the 1960s. He was a central figure in the Black Arts Movement, which stressed racial consciousness and sought to strengthen the relationship between black art and black people. Throughout his career, Baraka has been a strident critic of racism and oppression of the weak.
In September 2002, Baraka was enveloped in a firestorm of controversy after reading "Somebody Blew Up America" at a poetry festival in New Jersey. Although the poem is focused on massacres and oppression of blacks, Jews and others, many in the audience were reportedly offended by the following lines:
Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed
Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers
To stay home that day
Why did Sharon stay away?
Baraka's poem prompted New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey to ask him to resign as the state's poet laureate. Baraka refused to step down and in a New York Times article defended himself, saying, "Everything said about Israel in the poem is easily researched."
"The Essence of Reparations" is Baraka's first collection of essays — four of them — looking at reparations for blacks, especially African-Americans, for the crimes of slavery and linking reparations to greater political, economic and social liberation.
During his 40 years as a writer, Baraka has produced more than 12 books of poetry, 26 plays, eight collections of essays and speeches, and two books of fiction.
His visit is sponsored in part by the African Diaspora Youth Development Foundation. For more information, call 776-5222.
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