amiri baraka

Amiri BarakaOctober 8, 1995

The car turns onto a quiet, quaint, tree-lined street, with simple homes.

As I step up onto the porch I envisioned myself as Michael Evans the militant midget of the 70s television show Good Times. To say Mr. Baraka is controversial would be considered by most as an understatement. With more than fifteen books and movie appearances, I believe each individual can judge for themselves where he stands.

I rang the doorbell.

The sound of screams and cheers are heard. A female voice says, he’s free! O.J. is free! I look through the glass in the door. A shadow figure approaches. The door opens, Mr. Amiri Baraka appears in a not so happy mood. He stares at me as I give him my name. He says, Come in. He turns and shouts, white folks can keep him. What has he ever done for black people? Now that he’s in trouble, he wants black people to stand by him. They can keep him! He walks toward the back and disappears.

His wife, woman in her sixties, with a handkerchief in her hand descends the wooden staircase. She smiles, and then says, Did you hear the news? O.J. is free. From the rear Mr. Baraka shouts, We don’t need him! She says, Don’t mind him, she smiles.

My assistant hands me my portfolio and I show her the images. I ask her, where would be the best place for me to create an image of him.

Mr. Baraka returns from the back and looks at the bags of equipment in the foyer. He says, If I thought(knew) you were bringing all this junk into my home, I would have never allowed this.
His wife says, Amiri stop. He should photograph you upstairs in your library. He looked at me coldly, and then gestured for me to follow him. As he walked up the stairs he shouted, Now that you know that fool O.J. is free, do you think you can turn off the TV?
Mr. Baraka opens the door to a 15 x 17 foot room with bookcases on every wall. Books of all shapes and sizes filled the cases and overflowed onto the floor. He looked at me and said, Don’t touch anything. I watched him walk down the hall, and then I entered the room.

In my experience books are only interesting when read. Lord knows I did not have time to read the five thousand books before me. I quickly became fascinated with the trinkets on the bookshelves. Items and images of a past revolution took me back to a time of hate, segregation and the killing of black people. I came close enough to most of the items to breathe on them. Mr. Baraka stepped into the doorway and said, How much longer are you going to be? I explained what I had in mind. He instructed me to move quickly but not to break anything.

I hand Mr. Baraka a Polaroid with my assistant(standing) in the place he would be. Mr. Baraka asks me, Why I had a picture of that young man among his things? I smiled and said, That’s a mirror. Mr. Baraka lifts his glasses and looked at the image closer. He smiled slightly and said, What now?

I coaxed Mr. Baraka in place and began creating an image of him.

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