Zenosbooks

(10/25/2008) Ark Of Bones & Other Stories by Henry Dumas. Carbondale. 1970. Southern Illinois University Press. Edited By Hale Chatfield & Eugene Redmond. keywords: Literature America Black. 119 pages. 0809304422.

As moving a piece of fiction as you will find anywhere that had me imagining not only the numerous floods of the Mississippi over the years, but the more recent devastation in New Orleans, and the resulting human pain and loss.

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

   Blackness and youth are the preoccupations of these moving stories, and Henry Dumas approaches both themes with sensitivity and skill. Besides being a man and being a writer, Henry Dumas had two chief preoccupations: the mythos of black Americans and the mysteries of boyhood. This compelling collection of nine stories by Dumas, published and unpublished at the time of his death, combines both concerns, and the arrangement of the stories demonstrates simultaneously the growth of black consciousness in America and the ever-increasing sophistication of youth. The author operates from a recognition that the white proprietors of the North American continent cynically, inexorably strove to justify the enslavement of the black people by rupturing their families, dispersing their tribes, superseding their religions, and, at last, repudiating their humanity. Hence, to Dumas two of the great questions of our time are what does it mean to be black and in what manner and in what degree does American 'blackness' derive from African precedents? To seek an answer, Dumas recurred to his southern childhood and gathered up with care and affection the tales, the songs, the sayings, the bits of magic he felt, as a black man, to be specifically his - to contain hints and tracings of a greener place, a happier time. It is more than nostalgia, more than reminiscence that motivates Dumas in these stories: it is a search for a means of articulating an unacknowledged identity. It is characteristic of our age that poor, formerly rural families have moved in great numbers into the cities. The city makes the need for identity inevitably more urgent. In the last stories in this collection, Dumas seems to have made the city a symbol for the age itself--its tempo, its indifference, its violence. Men who must reach maturity in all that heat and pressure, Dumas seems to suggest, come out diamonds - or don't come out at all.

Henry Dumas was born in Sweet Home, Arkansas, on July 29, 1934, and was killed in Harlem on May 23, 1968. He studied at the City College of New York and at Rutgers University and spent three years in the U. S. Air Force. At the time of his death he was working as a free-lance writer and as a member of the teaching staff of the Experiment in Higher Education at Southern Illinois University in East St. Louis. Dumas was active in the area of 'little magazine' writing and publishing, and he was a member of the editorial staff of the Hiram Poetry Review. He leaves behind a wife and two sons. This volume, ARK OF BONES AND OTHER STORIES, and a companion volume, POETRY FOR MY PEOPLE, also published by the Southern Illinois University Press, comprise most of the finished work, published and unpublished, Mr. Dumas had accomplished at the time of his death.

Hale Chatfield, coeditor of this volume, is a member of the English faculty at Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio, and founder and editor of the Hiram Poetry Review. He has published two volumes of his own poetry, THE YOUNG COUNTRY AND OTHER POEMS and TEETH ; Chatfield received a B. A. degree from Wesleyan University in 1957 and an M. A. degree from Rutgers University in 1963. In July 1968 he was named chairman of the Poetry Advisory Panel to the Ohio Arts Council.

Eugene Redmond, the other coeditor of this volume, is currently writer-in-residence at Oberlin College. He has won several prizes for poetry. He holds the B. A. degree in English Literature from Southern Illinois University and the M. A. degree from Washington University. Many of Redmond's feature and news stories have been used by newspapers and radio stations across the country. He has read his poetry on television and on college campuses, and he appears regularly as a reader and actor with Southern Illinois University's Performing Arts Training Center, where he is Senior Consultant to director Katherine Dunham. This year October House will publish Redmond's first book-length collection of poems, THE EYE IN THE CEILING.

 

 

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