IMAMU AMIRI BARAKA was born Everett LeRoy Jones on October 7, 1934, in Newark, New Jersey.Although his original intention was to join the ministry, upon graduating from high school in 1951 he attended Rutgers University on a science scholarship, at which time he changed his name to LeRoi Jones.He transferred to Howard University in 1952, but found the conservative political atmosphere at this black school stifling and left after two years.
Between 1954 and 1957, Jones served in the air force's Strategic Air Command, spending much of this time stationed in Puerto Rico.It was in the air force that he began his first attempts at writing poetry. His experiences in the military, however, increased his suspicion of the white power structure, and his failure to conform to military discipline led to a dishonorable discharge in 1957. The next year he moved to Greenwich Village and began working as a jazz critic for such magazines as Jazz Review, Downbeat, and Metronome. It was in the Village that Jones became associated with Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Charles Olson.Also in 1958 he married a Jewish woman, Hettie Cohen, with whom he had two children. With her, he founded the avant-garde poetry magazine Yugen, which lasted from 1958 to 1973. She has recently written a book about her marriage with Baraka, How I Became Hettie Jones ( 1990).
Baraka's first major book was a collection of poetry, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note ( 1961). He continued to be very active in the New York literary scene, editing an anthology of new writing, The Moderns ( 1963), and a study of black music, Blues People ( 1963). He also taught courses in contemporary poetry and creative writing at the New School for Social Research and Columbia University, where he completed his M.A. in literature in 1964.
That same year his plays Dutchman and The Slave were produced, the former winning an Obie Award as best play of the season. In 1965 he had published a novel, The System of Dante's Hell, and received a Guggenheim