Amiri Baraka visits Weber State, shares literary work with students

Poet Amiri Baraka visited Weber State University Thursday as part of the Convocations lecture series.

Baraka is an author of over 40 literary works and is known nationwide for his political activism. Baraka, who hails from Newark, N.J., read some of his poetry to WSU students, as well as answered students’ questions.

He opened with a spoken-word poem he once read during Black History Month. Speaking of his African ancestors, his heritage and slavery, one part of the poem read, “Watch out Africa. With the wind and water blowing through my ears . . . sell me to the ghosts . . . my brother, the king, sold me to the ghosts. When you ban our boom-boom-ba-boom, you in deep, deep trouble. Probably take you 700 years to get out.”

Another poem he read, “Women work feverishly for slave-master Romeo’s,” addressed the issues of sexism in the world.

Baraka has had the opportunity to lecture not only at WSU, but at other locations in the United States as well as the Caribbean, Africa and Europe.

Most of Baraka’s works were read in a sing-song voice. He used the pitch of his voice to enunciate his poetry to the beat. Though most poems addressed important social issues, many were versatile and consisted of everything from Morgan Freeman to Santa Claus.

His words were inspiring to some students not only in context of the subjects entailed, but because he incorporated humor into the poems as well.

“The devil said he left ’cause there was so many niggas,” Baraka read, “so then he went to Europe.”

In another, he said, “If Elvis Presley is King, who is James Taylor?”

While the literary works were addressing issues our nation has faced, Baraka’s ability to turn them into social awareness using humor stood out to some students.

“He was very humorous,” said Stephanie Pauls, a WSU freshman. “But at the same time, I was thinking, ‘How could something like slavery be funny?’ Sometimes humor is what really gets to people and helps them remember what they’ve learned.”

Baraka has been the subject of several documentaries, including Poetic License and In Motion: Amiri Baraka. He is the winner of the American Academy of Arts & Letters award, the James Weldon Johnson medal and many more awards.

During his time speaking in the Wildcat Theatre, he offered WSU students a bit of advice.

“If you say why,” Baraka said, “you’ll eventually get wise. If you ask ‘why, why, why?’ you’ll get more and more wise.”

Students gathered not only to hear Baraka’s words but to hear the poetry of WSU’s poetry contest winners. Chelsea Archibald, Melanie Walker, Shawn Pete, Jason VanDam, Joshua Brothers and Carrie Francis were all able to read their work to their peers, as well as in the presence of Baraka himself.

Student poetry included topics like the ocean, green hair, a father’s death, rape and disease.

“We wanted to bring communication to campus,” said Convocations member and WSU student Thomas Jetta. “Communication is what brings people together.”