“You can help by dying.” – Radical African-American poet Amiri Baraka‘s answer to a white woman who asked how she could help advance civil rights, back in 1966. Whoa. Wow. From the LA Times: “Baraka, who rose to fame as an impassioned voice in the Beat Generation but later embraced black nationalism and then Marxism, died Thursday at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. He was 79.” No cause of death was given, but a spokesman said he had been hospitalized since Dec 21. Baraka aka LeRoi Jones was born Everett Leroy Jones in Newark, New Jersey. Once called the world’s finest living poet by Maya Angelou, he received similar plaudits from Norman Mailer and other writers and was the Poet Laureate for New Jersey in 2002. That didn’t end well. After reading a poem about 9/11 entitled “Somebody Blew Up America?” (which was criticized for anti-Semitism) there was an enormous outrage, but because there was no mechanism in the law to remove Baraka from the post, the position of state poet laureate was officially abolished by the State Legislature. HA! During his lifetime, he published more than 50 volumes of poetry, fiction, essays and plays, including his most famous, a one-act drama called Dutchman about a deadly encounter in a subway car between a reserved young black man and a seductive white woman who taunts him into a rage and then stabs him. Opening just as bloody civil rights struggles were making headlines, Dutchman struck a chord and won the 1964 Obie Award as the season’s best off-Broadway American play. From Wikipedia: “Baraka’s poetry and writing has attracted both extreme praise and condemnation. Within the African-American community, some compare him to James Baldwin and call Baraka one of the most respected and most widely published Black writers of his generation. Others have said his work is an expression of violence, misogyny, homophobia and racism.” Both are probably true. But what a life. Read the LA Times obituary here, and the New York Times obituary here.