A novel by William Melvin Kelley

February 1, 2001 • 5.5 x 8.5 • 256 pages • 978-1-56689-102-8

This classic of the Black Arts Movement is a surrealistic satire on race relations.

Originally published in 1967, dem is a classic of the Black Arts Movement. This surrealistic satire lays bare the convoluted and symbiotic relationship between whites and blacks. Coffee House Press is pleased to bring back into print this long-unavailable work that has much to tell us about contemporary society.

Upper-middle-class Manhattanite Mitchell Pierce and his wife Tamara enact the twists and turns of human relationships in this startling fable about the intersections of race, class, sex, love, and marriage. Kelley questions the nature and validity of subjective realities as he examines the constraints and consequences of prejudice.

Mitchell is convinced he has it made. With advancement at work, an attractive wife, and a comfortable apartment, he has achieved the 1960s version of the white man’s American dream. Then, slowly but surely, that dream becomes a nightmare, and Mitchell can’t seem to wake up. Did he really find his boss’s wife and children dead in an upstairs bedroom of their suburban home? Did his wife really become pregnant after a brief fling with their black maid’s boyfriend?

Notable as a satiric portrayal of white characters from an African American perspective, this milestone achievement tugs at our ability to suspend disbelief and forces us to reexamine stereotypes from the past and current images in America’s racial divide.

About the Author

William Melvin Kelley’s other books include the novels A Different Drummer, A Drop of Patience, Dunfords Travels Everywheres, and the short story collection, Dancers on the Shore. Kelley attended the Fieldston School and Harvard, where he studied under Archibald MacLeish and John Hawkes. He lives in Harlem, is a professor of Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and regularly teaches seminars at the Taos Institute of Art in Taos, New Mexico.


“One of the outstanding comic novels of the [sixties].”Boston Globe

“In dem the search for absolutes and the revelation of chaos beneath apparent order give this novel a mythopoetic resonance even as the concrete devices of fabulation and the dialectics of bitter, blue-black satire undermine the mythologies upon which the disintegrating lives of the white central characters depend.” —Johns S. Wright

“This satire peels back some uncomfortable layers of how the races see each other and is just as relevant today as it was in 1967, when it was published.” —New York Times Sunday Book Review