Stories by Henry Dumas
May 4, 2021 • 5.5 x 8.5 • 424 pages • 978-1-56689-607-8
African futurism, gothic romance, ghost story, parable, psychological thriller, inner-space fiction—Dumas’s stories form a vivid, expansive portrait of Black life in America.
Henry Dumas’s fabulist fiction is a masterful synthesis of myth and religion, culture and nature, mask and identity, the present and the ancestral. From the Deep South to the simmering streets of Harlem, his characters embark on real, magical, and mythic quests. Humming with life, Dumas’s stories create a collage of mid-twentieth-century Black experiences, interweaving religious metaphor, African cosmologies, diasporic folklore, and America’s history of slavery and systemic racism.
About the Author
Henry Dumas was born in Sweet Home, Arkansas, in 1934 and moved to Harlem at the age of ten. He joined the air force in 1953 and spent a year on the Arabian Peninsula. After returning, Dumas became active in the civil rights movement, married Loretta Ponton, had two sons, attended Rutgers University, worked for IBM, and taught at Hiram College in Ohio and at Southern Illinois University’s Experiment in Higher Education in East St. Louis. In 1968, at the age of thirty-three, he was shot and killed by a New York City Transit Authority police officer.
Eugene B. Redmond was named poet laureate of East St. Louis in 1976, the same year Doubleday published his Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry, A Critical History. Redmond taught along-side Henry Dumas at Southern Illinois University, where he is currently an emeritus professor of English. Since 1968, he has edited and helped publish most of Dumas’s poetry and fiction.
John Keene's recent books include the story collection Counternarratives (New Directions, 2016) and several books of poetry. He has also translated the Brazilian author Hilda Hilst’s novel Letters from a Seducer (Nightboat Books, 2014) and numerous other authors from Portuguese, French, and Spanish. His recent honors include an American Book Award, a Lannan Literary Award, a Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction, and a 2018 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He chairs the department of African American and African Studies and teaches English and creative writing at Rutgers University–Newark.
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Praise for Echo Tree
Literary Hub, “Most Anticipated Books of 2021”
Kirkus, “Best Fiction of 2021”
Bookmarks, “May’s Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books”
“This vital collection gathers the thrilling, variegated short fiction of Dumas. . . . A pair of vigorous introductory essays by Redmond and John Keene cast Dumas as an immensely influential writer, an heir to African and Black arts movements who sought to forge a new, emancipatory aesthetic. . . . This collection resounds with a piercing voice that demands to be heard.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“The typical Henry Dumas story begins with two or three men—or boys on the verge of manhood—living in a United States like the one we share but in which the doors to other worlds are slightly more ajar. Sometimes his protagonists pass through those doors or they witness the Devil’s entrance, but just as often this porousness lends a mythic shimmer to daily life. . . . This new edition of Echo Tree gives us the fullest sense of Dumas’s stereoscopic vision.” —David Hobbs, Times Literary Supplement
“Dumas achieved near mastery of narrative form, whether the gothic horror of ‘Rope of Wind,’ the allegorical cunning of ‘The University of Man,’ or the unsettling bare-bones naturalism of ‘The Crossing’. . . . The last story, ‘The Metagenesis of Sunra,’ a tour de force of creation mythology and cosmic improvisation, submits yet another jolt of discovery, suggesting how Dumas, who always seemed ahead of his own, albeit brief, time was capable of advancing African American storytelling art even further than one previously suspected. Every couple of decades or so, we need to be reminded of what made writers like Toni Morrison call Henry Dumas a genius.” —Kirkus, starred review
“Black culture and manhood take center stage in these stories, explored in Dumas’s lyrical, brutal prose, which orients and propels his tales to resonant endings, signaling a mastery of craft. . . . With a sharp eye that is both a credit to the original writing and the strength of its editing, these stories connect the past to the present. Echo Tree is a vibrant short story collection.” —Foreword Reviews, starred review
“Dumas freed himself to experiment with an exuberant hyper-candor that can still strike untruths dead with a lethal vibration.” —Ron Slate, On the Seawall
“Dumas’s fiction can take us to unexpected places. . . . [Echo Tree] surely does underscore Dumas’s talent as a writer of fiction, although at the same time reminding us that he was so barbarously prevented from fully harvesting that talent.” —Daniel Green, Full Stop
“[A]ffectingly aching and absolutely arresting. . . . Henry Dumas’ stories are a freedom song and an angry cry.” —Ron Jacobs, Counterpunch
“Henry Dumas is one of my favorite poets ever. . . . Now we have his collected short fiction, which features gothic romances, psychological thrillers, ghost stories, and more. Trust me, Reader, Dumas is electric, with writing that pulses through the vein, pumping straight for your heart.” —Rasheeda Saka, Literary Hub
“Dumas brought his gift as a poet to prose, and his deft ear picked up voices whether from the living or the dead. He was doing Lovecraft Country decades before it went viral. If there were such a thing as an Afro-Gothic school of artists, included would be Thelonious Monk, Horace Pippin, Albert Ayler, Betye and Lezley Saar—and Henry Dumas, a legend while living and a legend in the afterlife.” —Ishmael Reed
“Echo Tree arrives at the moment in our culture when we need Dumas’s daring imagination the most.” —Jeffrey B. Leak, author of Visible Man: The Life of Henry Dumas
“Dumas’s world is a Black poem. . . . Despite having been killed by a New York police officer when he was just thirty-three, Dumas left us a body of work that ensures his place as one of the best writers America has ever known. The literary canon is dishonest without him, and this collection of his stories should be read and cited as widely as Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and James Baldwin are—this is our music.” —Harmony Holiday, author of Maafa
Praise for Henry Dumas
“What stunned me about Dumas’s ‘heroic’ language is how it used Black myth to construct a narrative of the diaspora before and after colonialism and enslavement. Dumas’s legacy endures through the strivings of the poet Eugene Redmond and the great Toni Morrison. I hope you feel the power in these stories.” —Ta-Nehisi Coates
“[Dumas] had completed work, the quality and quantity of which are almost never achieved in several lifetimes. . . . He was brilliant. . . . I don’t know too many young men or young people who could write about old people the way he does, or write about love the way he does, or write about very young black boys the way he does. It’s extraordinary.” —Toni Morrison
“Dumas’s work . . . patiently diagnosed the violence of everyday life in America and imaginatively searched for a way out of old cycles of revenge and retribution. . . . By turns droll, poignant, surreal, and unflinching in their examination of the rituals and ordeals of black life, the stories are united mostly by their refusal to revel in anything except the richness of the imagination.” –Boston Review
“Dumas had a rich and varied talent, and he was foremost original. . . . The collection, well‐edited by Eugene Redmond, will be around a long time to remind us of who he was, how good he was.” —New York Times
“Dumas continued to set us up for the loneliness, aloneness, and desperation, sometimes even desolation. But he never leaves us there. With him as our guide, we’re always brought through to a better place.” —Maya Angelou
“Dumas’s stories are imaginative forays into allegorical fables and otherworldly realms.” —NPR
“Dumas was that rarity—a passionately political man with a poet’s eye and ear and tolerance of ambiguity. . . . One of the saddest things about his book is that it leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that there were even better books to come.” —The New Yorker
“Henry Dumas’s . . . fiction is among the most significant produced by a writer of any race in this country in the 1960s. . . . His reputation and standing among American writers and critics [approaches] mythic proportions.” —Quincy Troupe
“Each sentence a revelation of experience. . . . Actual black art, real, man, and stunning.” —Amiri Baraka
“The first time I read Henry Dumas’s Ark of Bones, I felt the hair raising on my head.” —Margaret Walker