Above: Amiri Baraka in 2007 (image via the Wiki).
When the email arrived yesterday, it hit me in the chest like a brick: Amiri Baraka, poet, scholar, musicologist, dramatist, and one of the greatest artists of our generation, died yesterday in New Jersey.
I had the opportunity to hear him speak and recite his works on many occasions. He was a close friend of my dissertation advisor Luigi Ballerini.
The two met in New York in the 1960s, during a golden age of experimental poetry in the U.S. and Luigi has translated many of Amiri’s poems, including them in English- and Italian-language anthologies published on both sides of the Atlantic.
His work and his charismatic presence as a performer had a profound effect on me.
In recent decades, controversy often eclipsed his legacy as one of the great literary figures of our times.
In fact, he was a gentle person who always had a kind word and an open, generous spirit when we all sat down for dinner after one of his readings in New York or Los Angeles.
Amiri, thank you… You taught me so much about words and rhythm. And my heart skips a beat knowing that you are gone…