To Raise, Destroy, and Create: The Poetry, Drama, and Fiction of Imamu Amiri Baraka (Le Roi Jones)

By Henry C. Lacey | Go to book overview

Chapter I
Die Schwartze Bohemien: "The Terrible Disorder of a Young Man"

Imamu Baraka, christened Everett LeRoi Jones, as born October 7, 1934, in Newark, New Jersey, the son of postal employee Coyt LeRoi Jones and social worker Anna Lois (Russ) Jones. (These parental occupations are referred to frequently in Baraka's transparently autobiographical writings.) Current Biography, 1970, notes that the writer exhibited his creative bent even as a pre-adolescent. 1 Deeply affected by the popular culture heroes of his youth, the young Baraka created his own comic strips and science fiction tales. We see the importance of these creations and the models from which they were drawn as late as Preface ( 1961) and Tales ( 1967). In the former the author attempts to rediscover the values posited by certain pop cult heroes. In the latter, the early interest in science fiction is reflected in a chilling tale of black humor called "Answers in Progress." Upon entering Newark's Barringer High School, Baraka was able to channel his energies through vigorous involvement with the school newspaper. He graduated from Barringer two years earlier than those in his age group.

After one year at the Newark branch of Rutgers University, Baraka enrolled at predominantly black Howard University, Washington, D. C. He briefly considered both religion and pre-medicine, but decided to major in English. Baraka graduated from Howard in 1953 with a major in English and a minor in philosophy. It was during his stay at Howard University, depicted as "the capstone of Negro education" (with pride or derision, depending on the source) by blacks, that Baraka observed the full scope of the pretensions of black middle class life. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, the writer speaks of the effect of his years at Howard. He says "The Howard thing let me understand the Negro sickness. . . . They teach you how to pretend to be white." 2 Baraka left "the capstone" with an abundance of material which he used later in his recurring treatment of the theme of "false Negroes." For example, "The Alternative," a story from Tales, and one of his most thoroughgoing treat

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