Amiri Baraka, also known as LeRoi Jones and Imamu Amiri Baraka, is one of the main leaders and inspirations of the BAM. Born in Newark, NJ, in 1934 to a middle-class family, Baraka attended Rutgers University then transferred to receive his degree from Howard University. Baraka served in the military for three years before settling in Greenwich Village in New York, at the heart of the Beat scene.
Baraka began writing seriously and with first wife, Hettie Cohen, founded the influential Beat literary journal, Yugen. Baraka then grew in notority when he won the Obie, awarded by the Village Voice newspaper, an off-Broadway award, for his play, Dutchman.
With his new found reputation, Baraka opened the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BART/S) in 1964. The BART/S became one of the most influential theatre/schools within the BAM and brought music, art, poetry and drama to the street corners of Harlem.
It was during this time that Baraka began to distance himself from the white culture. When Malcom X was assasinated in 1965, and after the closing of the BART/S, Baraka picked up and moved to Harlem, divorced his white wife, changed his name and adapted a Black nationalist view.
Baraka then married Amina Baraka, formerly known as Sylvia Robinson, and founded Spirithouse in Newark, NJ. Baraka was involved in almost every aspect of the beginning of the BAM and also in many other Black political and cultural movements, including participation with the Black Pather Party for Self Defense.
Since his days of the BAM, Baraka has abandoned his previous black nationalist views in favor of Marxism and the fight of the working class against the bourgeoisie. He continues to write and speaks frequently at colleges and universities nation-wide.