Interview with Amiri Baraka

Tell me the personal story of why you decided to change your name. What made you do that?


Well, we had been, ah, even more influenced by Africa, of course, the Nation of Islam and that whole question of, ah, African cultural revolution, you know, and the whole question of, ah, just, ah, Black consciousness, you know, was getting emphasized in the '60s. And, ah, after, ah, I got arrested in 1967 in the Newark rebellion, you know, and, ah, my head split open and my teeth knocked out, sent to jail and whatnot, I met the brother who had said the prayer over Malcolm, [  ]in Arabic. He came to my house. At the time, I was living on the other side of town on street. He came in there with some other people and said that if I was a leader I needed leading information, but anyway he, I mean, I was ripe for that. He wanted to give me this name which was Amiri Barakat which was Arabic, because they were Sunni Muslims. And since Malcolm had become a Sunni I was, you know, could be influenced by that to that extent and so, I thought it was good. I changed it further. I modified it and made it, you know, added the ban to it, a Swahili-ized it instead of Amiri Barakat which is Arabic, it became Amiri Baraka, which is the Swahili pronunciation because I was interested in the African emphasis. And, um, that was it , and, ah, we were identifying with Africa. We identified with revolution and, ah, even after I got a title, Imamu, and I belonged to a cultural nationalist organization, but all the kids that Amina and I had, they all had Swahili names, one got a urab[SIC]-name. It would be kind of out of character for me to be the only LeRoi walking around when I've got these Razas[SIC] and Aminas and Medis[SIC] and Shanis and Obilagis[SIC]--