Newark mayor and spoken word artist Ras Baraka’s next project? An audio memoir

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, a native son of Brick City, published poet and poet’s son, has authored and narrated an audible memoir to be released next month by Audible Inc, one of the city’s best known businesses.

The Book of Baraka, available Feb. 24, will chronicle the 51-year life of the spoken-word recording artist, former high school principal, and, since 2014, mayor of New Jersey’s largest city, his publisher announced on Thursday.

Baraka said in the announcement he was, “both humbled and grateful to have the opportunity to share my stories of growing up in Newark, being shaped by art and politics in a family that constantly challenged tradition, the world, and itself.”

The mayor is the son of the poet Amiri Baraka and his wife and fellow activist Amini Baraka, central figures in Newark literary and political circles and early supporters of Kenneth A. Gibson, who was elected Newark’s first Black mayor in 1970.

“This is me having a conversation about navigating spaces and trying to transform them at the same time,” he added. “In one sense it is a regular story of coming of age as a Black Boy in one of America’s cities pushed out into the world. But then again it’s about doing that as the son of Amiri and Amina Baraka who built one of the largest cultural nationalist organizations in this country, helped to organize one of the largest Black Political conventions in this nation, and created the force that led to the election of Ken Gibson.”

“It shows how their personal and political changes affected me but more importantly it’s about how this music and song was given to me and how I found my own voice trying to sing it.”

Baraka collaborated on the book with Jelani Cobb, a staff writer at The New Yorker, author, and professor at the Columbia University School of Journalism. The New Jersey Performing Arts Center, a Newark institution, is credited as the “executive producer.”

Baraka, who attended Newark public schools and earned a political science degree from Howard University and a master’s in education supervision from Rutgers, is chiefly known as an educator and elected official, having served as principal of Central High School, followed by a stint on the Newark City Council, before being elected mayor in 2014. He was re-elected in 2018, and will be up for a third four-year term in May.

As mayor, Baraka has presided over a continuation of Newark’s “renaissance,” encouraging redevelopment of the city’s outer wards beyond the high-profile development of the city’s Downtown section. He has also focused on rebuilding a police force depleted by budget cuts, attracting tech firms, and replacing thousands of lead-tainted water lines, among other initiatives.

Baraka’s previous publications include a collection of poems, Black Girls Learn Love Hard, dedicated to his late sister, Shani Baraka, who was fatally shot in 2003. And he edited In the Tradition: An Anthology of Young Black Writers in 1992. In terms of audio recordings, Baraka performed as a narrator on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the 1998 solo debut album by the singer and rapper, a fellow Newark native. Baraka recorded additional work with Hill, including a song, “Hot Beverage in Winter,” which was on his spoken-word album, Shorty for Mayor.

The Book of Baraka is the latest in a series known as Audible Originals, which chronicle Black experiences and issues of race and equality, including So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo and Alex Haley’s 1965 book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, read byLaurence Fishburne.

Audible’s executive chairman and digital audio book pioneer, Don Katz, founded the company in 1995 and moved its headquarters to Newark in 2007, a year before its acquisition by Amazon. Katz has been promoter of the tech sector as an economic development for Newark, as well as a Baraka supporter.

“Mayor Baraka’s deep roots in hip hop and poetry, his only-in-Newark upbringing, and his years as an educator and civic leader make for a brilliant, singular storytelling performance,” Katz stated in Thursday’s announcement. “Mixing powerful soliloquies, original poetic readings and historic audio in a rich soundscape tapestry filled with rap and syncopated bass lines and musical interludes, Mayor Baraka takes Audible Originals in a visionary new direction.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-01-28 03:26:46 -0800