UPDATE 1-U.S. playwright, poet and activist Amiri Baraka dead at 79

Thu Jan 9, 2014 6:27pm EST

(Adds biographical details on Baraka)

Jan 9 (Reuters) - U.S. playwright, poet and activist Amiri Baraka, known for politically charged works that explore themes of race, died on Thursday at age 79 at a hospital in his native New Jersey, a representative said.

Baraka had been in failing health and passed away at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, surrounded by family, said his booking agent Celeste Bateman, who declined to give the cause of death.

Baraka gained fame in the 1960s as the author of "Blues People: Negro Music in White America," and the Obie Award-winning play "Dutchman." Among his best-known poems are "In Memory of Radio" and "An Agony. As Now."

The African-American author was founder of the Black Arts Movement, the cultural counterpart to the militant Black Power Movement that grew out of the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s.

In 2002, as poet laureate of New Jersey, Baraka drew accusations of anti-Semitism after reading his poem "Somebody Blew Up America," which was said to include anti-Jewish material in an account of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Baraka refused then New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey's request for him to resign and, in response, state lawmakers passed a law to eliminate the position of poet laureate.

Born Everett LeRoi Jones in Newark, he later changed his name to Amiri Baraka. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)