Amiri Baraka

Once called the world’s finest living poet by Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, shown last year, received similar plaudits from Norman Mailer and other writers. In 1964, his one-act drama “Dutchman” won an Obie Award as the season’s best off-Broadway American play. (Mick Gold / Redferns / Getty Images / March 17, 2013)

Never shy about his revolutionary views, Amiri Baraka gave New Jersey's governor fair warning of possible fireworks when he was named the state's poet laureate.

"You're gonna catch hell for this," said Baraka, who began his lengthy literary career as LeRoi Jones.

"I can take it," then-Gov. James McGreevey told Baraka at a ceremony in August 2002.

Amiri Baraka: An obituary on writer and activist Amiri Baraka in the Jan. 10 LATExtra section said his daughter Shani and her half sister Wanda Pasha were fatally shot by Pasha's estranged husband in 2003. The shootings occurred in Wanda Pasha's home, but the two women shot were Shani Baraka and her companion Rayshon Holmes. —

A month later, McGreevey was among the many officials angrily calling for Baraka's resignation after the African American poet outraged much of New Jersey with a piece called "Somebody Blew Up America."

Taking its cue from Internet accounts, the poem suggested that Israel knew in advance about the World Trade Center disaster and had warned its citizens working there to stay away on Sept. 11, 2001. Baraka was denounced as anti-Semitic — a charge he denied — and the state, unable to find a legal mechanism to fire him, ended up abolishing his position.

Ever the provocateur, Baraka pointed out to The Times in 2003 that as poet laureate he had been asked to "promote and encourage poetry."

"Well," he said, raising a Miller Lite during an interview in his Newark, N.J., home, "I'm doing a bang-up job."

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.

His death was confirmed by his booking agent, Celeste Bateman. The cause was not disclosed.

Once called the world's finest living poet by Maya Angelou, he received similar plaudits from Norman Mailer and other writers. In 1964, his one-act drama "Dutchman" won an Obie Award as the season's best off-Broadway American play.

Staged with two main characters, it is the story of an ultimately lethal 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.

"If this is the way the Negroes really feel about the white world around them, there's more rancor buried in the breasts of colored conformists than anyone can imagine," critic Howard Taubman wrote in the New York Times. "If this is the way even one Negro feels, there is ample cause for guilt as well as alarm and for a hastening of change."

Baraka wrote "Dutchman" when he was still LeRoi Jones, one of several names he used over the years.

Born Everett Leroy Jones in Newark, N.J., on Oct. 7, 1934, he started using LeRoi in college — a tribute, he wrote in his 1984 autobiography, to African American journalist Roi Ottley.

The son of a postal supervisor and a social worker, Jones grew up comfortably middle-class in a Newark neighborhood that was both black and Italian. He studied at Rutgers University before transferring to Howard University, a black college in Washington, D.C.

In 1954, he flunked out. He later called Howard "a training ground for the black petty bourgeoisie."

But he also acknowledged it as a place where he grew into an intellectual — a status, he contended, that got him booted from the Air Force in 1958.