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Obit: American Writer Amiri Baraka Dies

Amiri Baraka, whose blues-based poems, plays and criticism made him one of the major players in the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and '70s, has died.

Baraka died Thursday at age 79 in Newark, New Jersey. He had been hospitalized since December.

Baraka, the former LeRoi Jones, began his career in the 1950s as a Beat poet.

His play Dutchman about a violent encounter between a white woman and a black man on a subway won the Village Voice's Obie Award in 1964 for best play.

In 1965 during the Civil Rights Movement, Baraka wrote "We want poems that kill," in his landmark book Black Art. Among the lines in the book: "Assassin poems. Poems that shoot guns. Poems that wrestle cops into alleys."

His immersion in spoken word traditions and street language anticipated rap, hip-hop and slam poetry, inspiring several generations of poets, playwrights and musicians.

Literary critic and biographer Arnold Rampersad has placed Baraka alongside Frederick Douglass, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison in the pantheon of black cultural influences.

Baraka underwent many transformations during his career, including beatnik, black nationalist, and he once described himself as a "Marxist-Leninist-Maoist."

In 2002, he was labeled an "anti-Semitic" for his factually untrue poem Somebody Blew up America, about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In the poem, he suggested Israel knew the attacks were coming.

He wrote the poem after being appointed as New Jersey's poet laureate. The poem cost him the post.

At the time of his death, he was an emeritus professor at Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York.

Amiri Baraka is survived by his wife of 47 years.

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