Newark Mayor and His Sister, Art Historian Kellie Jones, To Discuss Groundbreaking Book By Their Father, Amiri Baraka, at Express Newark Event

Legendary author and activist Amiri Baraka wrote more than 50 books before his death in 2014. His son, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, will be celebrating one of them, along with his sister, art historian Kellie Jones, at Express Newark on April 3. 

That book is “Blues People: Negro Music in White America,’’ written in 1963 when Amiri Baraka, who later changed his name, was LeRoi Jones, a Beat Generation poet from a literary scene that included Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.

Now regarded as a boundary-breaking classic, “Blues People” used the evolution of Black music in the U.S. to trace how enslaved Africans became African Americans, creating a cultural identity that changed the nation and the world.

Express Newark, a socially engaged center for art and design supported by Rutgers-Newark, has been celebrating the book and the issues it explores–Black culture and history, music, displacement and resistance–with an exhibition by five artists and a series of events centered around the theme “Blues People.’’ 

The April 3 event, titled “Children of the Cosmos,” will feature a conversation between the mayor and Jones, a Columbia University professor, MacArthur "Genius" fellow and curator, and moderated by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Salamishah Tillet, Executive Director of Express Newark. It begins at 6:30.

According to Tillet, the dialogue will focus on art and activism and explore the legacy of Jones’s book, as well as the evolving significance of blues as music and as a metaphor for how we think about class, race, and politics today. The event is supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation and Harborview Foundation.

“Mayor Ras Baraka and Dr. Kellie Jones are two of the most important and incisive voices on the role that art plays in making our society more equitable and our world more just,” says Tillet, who is the Henry Rutgers professor of Africana Studies and Creative Writing at Rutgers University - Newark. “In their respective fields of politics and academia and their shared practice of writing and activating art in public spaces, they have kept the extraordinary vision of “Blues People” alive. We have much to learn from their brilliance, and I am honored to be in a conversation with them both.”  

At the event, the multidisciplinary “Blues People” exhibition, which opened last month and runs through July, will be on display. Curated by Alliyah Allen, Express Newark's associate curator and program coordinator, it features work by some of the nation’s leading artists, who were asked to reimagine one of their own pieces in conversation with Jones’ text and vanguard ideas. Artists include Derrick Adams, Adama Delphine Fawundu, Adebunmi Gbadebo, Cesar Melgar, and Accra Shepp.