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Born Everett Leroy Jones during the Great Depression in Newark, New Jersey, Jones changed his name a few times. In college he changed the spelling of his middle name to mirror the French word for king, "LeRoi." Later, to symbolize his political and spiritual transformations, an Islamic minister renamed LeRoi Jones "Ameer Barakat," meaning "Blessed Prince" in Arabic. Subsequently, Maulana Karenga, founder of the Kwanzaa holiday, renamed him Amiri Baraka.
One of the African American writers who galvanized a second black Renaissance -- the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s -- the prolific Baraka produced poems, plays, essays, fiction and music criticism. His writings reflected a quest for identity and individuality that resonated with a generation of African Americans. In the Black Power era, he was seen as a rebel artist, the "Malcolm X of literature." Baraka declared "It's Nation Time" in his poetry and helped organize the National Black Political Convention in 1972.
Selected as New Jersey's poet laureate in 2002, Baraka was criticized for a poem about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center entitled "Somebody Blew Up America."