New York. 1988. Thunder's Mouth Press. Uncorrected Proofs. Very Good In Wrappers. 347 pages. paperback. HENRY DUMAS, a prize-winning writer, was born in Sweet Home, Arkansas, on July 20, 1934, and moved to New York City when he was ten years old. His life was ended abruptly on May 23, 1968, by bullets from the gun of a New York Transit policeman in the subway. Reasons for the killing have remained vague and unsatisfactory. Before his death Dumas had been active on the ‘little' magazine circuit as well as in the initial opening scene of the Black Arts Movement, publishing his stories and poems in Negro Digest/Black World, Rutgers' Anthologist, the Hiram Poetry Review, Umbra and Black Fire. Since his death his reputation and writings have attracted a large and international community of readers. On the heels of the publication of ARK OF BONES AND OTHER STORIES and PLAY EBONY PLAY IVORY, writers, artists and students gathered in several largely Black areas of the country to read from the works and proclaim the genius of Dumas. Among the anthologies and periodicals which have printed his work since his death are: Black Scholar, Essence, Brothers and Sisters, Confrontation, Galaxy of Black Writing, You Better Believe it, Open Poetry and Giant Talk: An Anthology of Third World Writings. Just before his death, Dumas was employed by Southern Illinois University's Experiment in Higher Education in East St. Louis. 0938410598. keywords: 41911. inventory # 19295. FROM THE PUBLISHER-This long-overdue collection/anthology of the late Henry Dumas's powerful fiction (praised by The New York Times as ‘rich, talented and original') brings together for the first time a broad selection of works, whose penetrating force, humor and savage clarity make vivid the richness of the black experience in America. These pieces, whose settings range from impoverished rural Arkansas to the explosive Harlem of the sixties, treat with courage and honesty the tensions between blacks and whites, from North to South; yet Dumas's expansive breath of vision extends beyond racial hostilities to encompass universal conflicts – between man and nature, justice and injustice, love and hatred, good and evil. Among the stories in this collection that depict smoldering anger that sparks and blazes into violence, the grimly prophetic ‘Harlem' stands out. Here, Dumas, who was killed in 1968 by a New York City policeman under still-unexplained circumstances, describes a black man watching the neighborhood boil over, even small children ‘infected by the strange malady of hate and boredom, ' as a police riot squad closes in on a crowd maddened by an attack on a black youth in an inexorable escalation of violence. Man and nature collide in an excerpt from Dumas's haunting (only) novel, JONOAH AND THE GREEN STONE. Young John is orphaned and set adrift in a large flat-bottomed skiff when the Mississippi crosses the mudline and climbs over the levee, sweeping away people, animals, homes, crops. Adopted by the Mastersons, a family also dispossessed by the flood, John is rechristened ‘Jonoah', because his boat has saved them all from the deluge. When a white man they rescue threatens Jonoah's newfound family, the boy learns the difference between the mortal danger of the river and the moral danger of human malice. In the never-before-published title story ‘Goodbye, Sweetwater, ' menace hovers over Sulfur Springs, Arkansas, reduced to a wasteland by a nearby factory. There, sixteen-year-old Layton Bridges, watches the trains pass from his perch in a chinaberry tree in his grandmother's yard and dreams of rejoining his mother in New York. A tense encounter with a local white man uncovers resentments that challenge his impending manhood. Praised as a writer ‘of both the mind and the flesh. a master at the reins. ' Henry Dumas created a literature at once authentic in its depiction of human joy and despair and suggestive of the larger mysteries of life....
Henry Dumas' fiction and poetry deserve the same kind of readership and revival that Zora Neale Hurston's novels have gotten. Dumas's oeuvre is slighter, because tragically at the age of thirty-three he was shot and killed by a policeman in a subway station in New York in 1968. Goodbye, Sweetwater is a collection of his stories and includes an excerpt from his novel Jonoah and the Green Stone.
Like Hurston, Dumas incorporated African American folkways into both his fiction and poetry, and the incantatory rhythms of blues and gospel, as well as surrealist techniques of distortion and heightening. Befitting a poet, his stories have the greater concision, while the novel excerpt feels a bit like an unfinished allegory as its title suggests.
Here is Toni Morrison: "A cult has grown up around Henry Dumas--a very deserved cult. . .(H)e had written some of the most beautiful, profound and moving poetry and fiction that I have ever read." The reader might also seek out Play Ebony Play Ivory, a collection of Dumas' poetry republished by Random House. In the midst of America's racial nightmare, Henry Dumas managed to remain free of ideological cant. He was a true artist.
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