"An Agony. As Now" was published in 1964 as a part of The Dead Lecturer: Poems, Baraka's second collection of poems. Though this was close to the date when Baraka became radicalized and left his family in Greenwich Village to pursue activism in Harlem, this collection was still published under the name LeRoi Jones. But The Dead Lecturer: Poems is already asking hard questions about race and black survival in an extremely polarized and unequal society. Baraka doesn't tiptoe but rather uses blunt and brutal language to more accurately describe the devastating social climate and living conditions for African Americans in the United States during the mid-20th century. Published right at the end of Baraka's time in Greenwich Village, The Dead Lecturer: Poems gives a taste of the work that he will do once he undergoes his metamorphosis from LeRoi Jones to Amiri Baraka. Baraka began the Black Arts Movement later that year and helped cultivate African American literature during the Civil Rights period in New York. In 1964 Baraka also wrote the play The Slave, an examination of the tensions between African Americans and white people in the America of the 1960s.
"An Agony. As Now" is emblematic of Baraka's early radicalism. It explores the fragmented psyche of a speaker who abhors his outward body. The speaker of the poem is stuck looking out into a world that destroys him from a body that can do him no favors. This poem clearly acts as a metaphor for race in the United States in the mid-20th century, and what it might feel like to be a person of color who is criminalized and persecuted simply because of the color of their skin.