Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Amiri Baraka papers, 1945-2015, bulk 1970s-2000s

Summary Information


The Amiri Baraka Papers contains correspondence, writings, and the personal, political activism and teaching materials related to Amiri Baraka's career as a poet, writer, editor, activist, and teacher in the New York City Beat, Downtown, and Black Arts literary scenes from the 1960s through the 2000s. Included are manuscripts from Baraka's numerous books of poetry, non-fiction, fiction, plays, editorial work, and screenplays. The collection also features organizational and documentary materials relating to Baraka's university teaching and Newark, NJ-based Black radical activism, as well as audio/visual material, photographs, and printed material collected and created by Baraka.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1482
Bib ID 6909686 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Baraka, Amiri, 1934-2014
Title Amiri Baraka papers, 1945-2015, bulk 1970s-2000s
Physical Description 219.5 linear feet (219.5 linear feet)
Language(s) English .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located on site.

Box 14 and Box 100 are missing.

Boxes 82a, 82b, and 82c are located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

Material containing information about Baraka's students or that have personal information or grades about students are restricted for 75 years from the month of creation.

Unique time-based media items have been reformatted and are available onsite via links in the container list. Commercial materials are not routinely digitized. Email rbml@columbia.edu for more information.



Scope and Content

This collection contains the correspondence, writings, teaching, activist, and personal materials, audio/visual and photographic material relating to Amiri Baraka's career as a poet, writer, teacher, and activist, as well as items pertaining to his personal life. Correspondence ranges from 1945 to 2007, and comprises a wide variety of correspondents, including business and literary contacts, friends, fans, and family.

Among the writings are notes, drafts, correspondence, and publication material pertaining to many of Baraka's poetry, fiction, plays and screenplays, non-fiction, and editorial projects primarily after 1973, both published and un-published. Also included are drafts and research material for the poem "Somebody Blew Up America," as well as drafts of essays, correspondence, petitions of support, and clippings about the subsequent Poet Laureate controversy. Finally, there is a large body of writings—fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and plays—by others.

Other series included herein are those containing materials relevant to Baraka's teaching at various colleges and universities, including SUNY-Stony Brook, Rutgers, Columbia, and Naropa. A separate series holds the organizational papers, correspondence, reports, and research materials surrounding Baraka's political organizing and activism, particularly his work with various black nationalist, Pan-African, and international socialist/Maoist groups. A separate series is comprised of by materials related to Kimako's Blues People, the club, performance venue, and salon founded by Baraka and his wife Amina in Newark. A series of personal items contains many notebooks and loose notes produced by Baraka, material relating to his family, and financial, legal, and medical documents, as well as Baraka's FBI files.

This collection also encompasses a large body of audio/visual material produced by Baraka and others, including audio cassettes, film reels, DVDs, CDs, and visual art in a variety of mediums. Much of the A/V material relates to Baraka's work with black nationalist and Pan-African political groups. A final series contains printed material, including flyers about Baraka's readings, appearances, and performances; political and cultural events organized by Baraka and others; clippings about Baraka; and many literary journals, little magazines, poetry chapbooks, and political newspapers containing work by Baraka.

  • Series I: Correspondence, 1945-2007

    This series contains personal and business correspondence to and from Baraka from the 1960s through the 2000s. The materials are primarily organized alphabetically by correspondent, with additional caches of correspondence from Baraka's immediate family and children, as well as Allen Ginsberg, Nina Simone, and photocopies of his correspondence with the poet Ed Dorn. The material includes holographs, typescript, and computer-printed letters, as well a large body of printed emails. Additional correspondence can be found in other series, relevant to that subject.

  • Series II: Writings, 1958-2009

  • Series III: Teaching, 1976-2006

    This series contains materials relating to Baraka's long career as a teacher at various colleges and universities, largely in the New York City area. Included are course descriptions, syllabi, rosters, correspondence with other faculty and administration, grades and graded tests and papers (currently restricted), and financial documents relative to his employment at each institution. The bulk of the items in this series are from Baraka's time at SUNY-Stony Brook, which contains materials pertaining to his anti-apartheid activism, and Rutgers, with much material about the controversy over his tenure denial. Also included in the series are writings and other materials surrounding the academic tenure of Professor Ernest Dube. This series is arranged alphabetically by institution. Material that includes student records or grades are closed for a period of 75 years from date of creation

  • Series IV: Activism, 1967-2006

    Baraka's political and cultural activism is the subject of this series, which includes organizational material, meeting minutes, writings, research reports, flyers and other printed material relating to his work with groups such as the Congress of Afrikan People, Black Radical Congress, Afrikan Free School, the Baraka Defense Committee, the Committee for a Unified Newark, Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District, and various Newark governmental and arts organizations including the public schools. It also contains campaign materials relating to the various political campaigns of Baraka's son, Ras. The materials are arranged alphabetically by organization name.

  • Series V: Kimako's Blues People, 1987-2004

    This series contains materials relating to Kimako's Blues People, a small club, music and performance venue, arts space, and salon operated out of Baraka's basement in Newark, NJ. Included are writings about KBP, correspondence, organizational materials, photographs, and flyers and clippings of shows and events at KBP. The series is arranged according to type of material.

  • Series VI: Personal, 1956-2014

    This series contains material relating to Baraka's personal life. The bulk of this series consists of Baraka's handwritten notebooks, notes, planners, and calendars. Another major grouping pertains to Baraka's family. The rest of the series contains financial, legal, medical, and royalty documents, photographs and printed material relating to major events in Baraka's life, and Freedom of Information Act-acquired FBI files on Baraka. Finally, subject files relating to Baraka's research and writing interests are contained herein.

  • Series VII: Visual Art and Photographs, 1950-2007

    This series includes visual art in a variety of mediums both made by Baraka and by others. The series is arranged by medium, with each medium grouping given its own particular arrangement. The photographs grouping has two arrangements, by date and alphabetical by subject. Included in the photographs are portraits of Baraka, as well as images of his family and personal acquaintances, readings and performances, and productions of his plays. The visual art grouping contains primarily art made by Baraka in several mediums, including paintings, ink and pencil sketches, and computer generated (MS Paint).

  • Series VIII: Audio/Visual, 1959-2007

    This series includes audio cassettes, film reel, DVD, CD, and other AV formats both made by Baraka and by others. The series is arranged by medium, with each medium grouping given its own particular arrangement. The A/V materials contain VHS, Beta, 16mm and 35mm film reel, and DVD. The 174 numbered video reels are helical scan open reel film. The bulk of these materials contain footage of Baraka's various political activities throughout the seventies, including his involvement with the Kawaida Towers, the African Women's Conference, Black Women's United Front, and the Congress of African Peoples. A/V materials are arranged in the order in which they were given by Baraka. Finally, the audio group consists primarily of materials not created by Baraka, and previously released. However, of particular interest is a 1994 recording of a Baraka poetry reading, and a number of copies of a vinyl recording of songs written by Baraka, performed by The Advanced Workers with the Anti-Imperialist Singers. The audio materials are arranged by medium.

  • Series IX: Printed Material, 1961-2007

    This series holds printed materials collected by Baraka, but produced primarily by others. There are large numbers of flyers and print announcements and advertisements for Baraka's readings, lectures, appearances, and publications, as well as non-Baraka events across the arts, primarily visual arts, literature, film, and music, are located here. There are also a large number of flyers pertaining to political actions. In addition, this series holds many clippings from newspapers and magazines about Baraka. Also in this series is a large collection of little magazines, literary journals, magazines, and newspapers that contain work by Baraka, as well as copies of a number of his broadsides and books. There is also a large collection of literary journals and little magazines from the 1960s to the 2000s, as well as many socialist, Maoist, and radical magazines, journals, newsletters, and newspapers from the 1960s through the 2000s. Materials are arranged by medium and alphabetically, and much of the material is arranged at box-level.

  • Series X: Archived Web Site, 2011-2015

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located on site.

Box 14 and Box 100 are missing.

Boxes 82a, 82b, and 82c are located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

Material containing information about Baraka's students or that have personal information or grades about students are restricted for 75 years from the month of creation.

Unique time-based media items have been reformatted and are available onsite via links in the container list. Commercial materials are not routinely digitized. Email rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Amiri Baraka Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

2007.2008.M070: Source of acquisition--Imamu Amiri Baraka. Method of acquisition--Purchase; Date of acquisition--2007.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Papers processed Aaron Winslow 2014.

Finding aid written Aaron Winslow 2014.

225 audio recordings digitized as part of the Coordinated Project for Preservation Reformatting of Audio Reel to Reel Tapes to Digital Format, funded by the New York State Program for the Conservation and Preservation of Library Research Materials, 2013-2014

Old box 82 was broken into four boxes (82A, 82B, 82C, 82D) during AMI prep in 2019. kws

Processing of this collection was made possible through the generous support of the Gladys Kriebel Delmas Foundation

Revision Description

2014-07-03 File created.

2018-04-03 XML document instance updated by Catherine C. Ricciardi. Addition of Series IX.

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

2020-09-04 Added links to digitized material. kws

2021-02-23 Links to digitized AV added. kws

2021-04-12 Links to digitized AV added. kws

2021-09-27 Added missing box information. kws

2022-03-04 Name list added to alphabetical correspondence; description in series I lightly reorganized. kws

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Sound recordings Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Video recordings (physical artifacts) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
African American poets Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
American literature -- African American authors Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Baraka, Amiri, 1934-2014 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Beats (Persons) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Bohemianism Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Civil rights Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Civil rights and socialism Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Counterculture Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Little magazines Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Newark (N.J.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Poetry -- Publishing Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Poetry -- Social aspects Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Political plays Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Politics and government Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Politics and literature Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Politics in art Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Race relations in literature Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Radicalism Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Radicalism in art Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Teaching Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical Note

Poet, writer, activist, and teacher Amiri Baraka (born Everett LeRoi Jones) was born October 7, 1934 to Coyt Leverette and Anna Lois Jones in Newark, NJ, a postal supervisor and a social worker, respectively. In 1952 Baraka entered Howard University, leaving before graduating. He subsequently studied at both Columbia University and the New School for Social Research in New York City, also without taking a degree.

In 1954, Baraka entered the United States Air Force as a gunner, stationed in Puerto Rico. Reaching the rank of sergeant, Baraka served until 1957 when he was dishonorably discharged for the possession of prohibited political literature.

Settling in Greenwich Village, Baraka became active in the Downtown literary, arts, and music scenes, marrying Hettie Cohen in 1958, with whom he would have two children, Kellie Jones (b. 1959) and Lisa Jones (b.1961). Together, Baraka and Jones founded and co-edited the seminal avant-garde literary magazine Yugen in 1958 and, later, Totem Press, which published early works by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and other Beat and Downtown experimental writers. At the same time, Baraka worked as editor and critic for the literary and art journal Kulchur. In 1961, Baraka's first collection of poetry, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note… was published by Totem/Corinth Press.

From 1961 to 1963, Baraka co-edited, with Diane Di Prima, the little magazine The Floating Bear. Baraka and Di Prima later founded the New York Poets Theatre, alongside choreographers Fred Herko and James Waring, and actor Alan S. Marlowe. With Di Prima, Baraka would go on to have a daughter, Dominique Di Prima, born in 1962.

In 1960, Baraka took a seminal trip to Cuba as part of a Fair Play for Cuba Committee delegation, which provided the basis for his essay "Cuba Libre." Upon return, he co-authored the statement of support for Fidel Castro, Declaration of Conscience with Margaret Randall, Marc Schleifer, Elaine de Kooning, Diane Di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Norman Mailer, which was published in the Monthly Review.

The mid-Sixties saw Baraka becoming more prominent in the literary and arts scenes, with the 1963 publication of the major study of blues and African American music, Blues People: Negro Music in White America, and his editorship of The Moderns: An Anthology of New Writing in America. In 1964, the production of his play Dutchman at Cherry Lane Theatre in New York brought him to the attention of the dramatic arts world, and the play later won an Obie for "best off-Broadway play," and was turned into a film by Anthony Harvey in 1966.

Following the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, Baraka left Hettie Jones and their children and moved uptown to Harlem, declaring himself a black cultural nationalist. Here he founded and directed the Black Arts Repertory Theatre-School and published his first and only novel The System of Dante's Hell, before moving back to the city of his birth, Newark, NJ.

In 1966 Baraka married Sylvia Robinson, and the following year they adopted the Bantuized Muslim names of Imamu ("spiritual leader," subsequently dropped) Ameer ("Prince," later Amiri) Baraka ("blessed") and Amina Baraka. Baraka also began teaching at San Francisco State University where he began an association with cultural nationalist leader Ron Karenga.

This same year, in the midst of the Newark riots, Baraka was arrested and injured by police on charges of unlawful weapons possession and resisting arrest. Initially convicted of a misdemeanor, the charges were reversed on appeal. During this period, Baraka's political organizing became more prominent, and his poetry became more overtly political as well, particularly his volume Black Magic and the seminal Black Arts Movement anthology Black Fire, co-edited with Larry Neal. In 1970, Baraka helped mayoral candidate Kenneth Gibson become the first African American mayor of Newark. He also worked as an organizer and participant in the Congress of African Peoples which met in Atlanta and, in 1972, the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana.

Another major shift in Baraka's political beliefs and aesthetics occurred in 1974, when he rejected black nationalism and declared his conversion to "Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought", or Third World Marxism, in the essay "Toward Ideological Clarity," published in Black World. The following year saw the publication of his first Marxist poetry collection, Hard Facts. Though Baraka's politics would continue to develop, he remained a Third World Marxist for the rest of his life and career.

In 1979, Baraka became a lecturer in the Africana Studies Department at SUNY-Stony Brook. That same year, Baraka was arrested during an altercation with Amina and sentenced to 48 weekends in a Harlem halfway house, during which he wrote The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, first published in 1984. In this same year, Baraka and Amina found Kimako's Blues People, a multimedia arts space, located in their basement in Newark.

In 1990 Baraka became active in the campaign to achieve major curricular reform in the Newark public schools. He was, in the same year, denied tenure at Rutgers University, which became a major rallying point for anti-racism campus activism. During this period he worked on several major biographical projects, co-writing both the autobiography of Quincy Jones and the unfinished and unpublished Max Roach autobiography, with whom he had previously collaborated on The Life and Life of Bumpy Johnson, a musical drama.

In 2002, New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey named Baraka the state's Poet Laureate. Soon after, he became embroiled in a controversy over his September 11th poem "Somebody Blew Up America," which critics accused of being anti-American and ant-Semitic. Unable to oust Baraka from the position, Governor McGreevey and the State Legislature ultimately abolished the post of Poet Laureate. Baraka was subsequently named Poet Laureate of the Newark Public School System.

Over the course of his career, Baraka received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN/Faulkner Award, a Rockefeller Foundation Award for Drama, the Langston Hughes Award from The City College of New York, and a lifetime achievement award from the Before Columbus Foundation.

Amiri Baraka died on January 9, 2014, in Newark, New Jersey, after being periodically hospitalized for one month prior to his death. After struggling for a long period with diabetes, Baraka died from complications after a recent surgery. His funeral was held at Newark Symphony on January 18, 2014