NEWARK — Amiri Baraka, the former New Jersey poet laureate and well-respected author and playwright, was hospitalized in critical condition last night, officials said.
Baraka, 79, was hospitalized sometime on Monday, according to a post on Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif's personal Facebook page.
In a later interview, Sharif said Baraka was in "critical condition" last night, but added his condition might be improving today.
“I think he’s better than he was yesterday," Sharif said.“I’m just hoping that his condition gets better by the hour and that he’s able to come home and have a full recuperation."
The 79-year-old was placed in intensive care on Monday night, according to Frank Baraff, a spokesman for Amiri's son, South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka.
As of 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Baraff said Amiri Baraka "seems to be steadily getting stronger." Baraff said the family was not expected to make any public statements.
"The family has asked for privacy right now," he said.
A Newark native and resident formerly known as Leroi Jones, Amiri Baraka has published dozens of poems, essays and works of non-fiction. In 1963 Amiri Baraka wrote "Blues People," an in-depth history of music from the time of slavery throughout the various incarnations of blues and jazz, with integrated social commentary. The book's 50th anniversary was recently celebrated during an event at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
Baraka was also the state's poet laureate for a short time in 2002 and 2003. His tenure in the post drew heavy criticism after he penned a poem about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks entitled "Somebody Blew Up America?" which many considered anti-Semitic in nature. The state legislature eventually abolished the laureate post to remove Baraka from the position.
West Ward Councilman Ronald Rice Jr. also confirmed Baraka had been hospitalized, but neither he nor Sharif knew exactly why.
Rice said he spoke with Amiri at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony a few weeks ago, but the elder poet looked frail.
“He’s normally a guy that kind of grabs you by the arm when he wants you. Like ‘come here, come here,'" Rice said.