|Amiri Baraka at a reading in St. Louis, November 2003
I've taken a slight detour and been writing about gun violence. Since I usually write about poetry here, I've been drawing connections between the two: poetry and gun violence.
I just remembered that I was present as Amiri Baraka discussed how gun violence and a stabbing led to the deaths of important women in his life. In 1984, Baraka's sister Kimako Baraka was stabbed to death in her apartment apparently by a 21-year-old. A little over two decades later in August 2003, Baraka's daughter Shani was shot to death.
In November 2003, I attended a reading that Baraka gave in St. Louis.
In his opening remarks, he said it was one of the first times he had given a reading in public since the shooting death of his daughter. I distinctly remember him discussing that he and his wife Amina were in so much pain after Shani's murder that they could hardly leave the house. In the course of those remarks, he mentioned the stabbing death of his sister Kimako. I was unaware of her murder at the time, but her name was quite familiar to me because I knew that Baraka and his wife referred to their home basement where they hosted readings and other performances as Kimako's Blues People.
In 2004, Amiri and Amina Baraka produced The Shani Project, an album of readings with accompanying music by Rahman Herbie Morgan, Dwight West, Brian Smith, and Vijay Iyer.
I was fortunate enough to catch Baraka reading many times over the course of about a decade and a half. In retrospect, the time I witnessed him at his most vulnerable moment was in November 2003 when he was discussing the murder of his daughter.
• A notebook on gun violence