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Echo Tree: The Collected Short Fiction of Henry Dumas

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Henry Dumas’s fiction is a masterful synthesis of myth and religion, culture and nature, mask and identity. From the Deep South to the simmering streets of Harlem, his characters embark on surreal and mythic quests armed only with wit, words, and wisdom. Championed by Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley, and Quincy Troupe, -Dumas’s books have long been out of print. All of his Henry Dumas’s fiction is a masterful synthesis of myth and religion, culture and nature, mask and identity. From the Deep South to the simmering streets of Harlem, his characters embark on surreal and mythic quests armed only with wit, words, and wisdom. Championed by Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley, and Quincy Troupe, -Dumas’s books have long been out of print. All of his short fiction is collected here, for the first time, and includes several previously unpublished stories. Henry Dumas was born in Sweet Home, Arkansas, moved to Harlem, joined the Air Force, attended Rutgers, worked for IBM, and taught at Hiram College in Ohio and Southern Illinois University. In 1968, at the age of thirty-three, he was shot and killed by a New York Transit Authority -policeman.


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Henry Dumas’s fiction is a masterful synthesis of myth and religion, culture and nature, mask and identity. From the Deep South to the simmering streets of Harlem, his characters embark on surreal and mythic quests armed only with wit, words, and wisdom. Championed by Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley, and Quincy Troupe, -Dumas’s books have long been out of print. All of his Henry Dumas’s fiction is a masterful synthesis of myth and religion, culture and nature, mask and identity. From the Deep South to the simmering streets of Harlem, his characters embark on surreal and mythic quests armed only with wit, words, and wisdom. Championed by Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley, and Quincy Troupe, -Dumas’s books have long been out of print. All of his short fiction is collected here, for the first time, and includes several previously unpublished stories. Henry Dumas was born in Sweet Home, Arkansas, moved to Harlem, joined the Air Force, attended Rutgers, worked for IBM, and taught at Hiram College in Ohio and Southern Illinois University. In 1968, at the age of thirty-three, he was shot and killed by a New York Transit Authority -policeman.

30 review for Echo Tree: The Collected Short Fiction of Henry Dumas

  1. 4 out of 5

    Read By RodKelly

    This book was a bit of a challenge; one of those books that has me asking myself if I'm intelligent enough to fully appreciate its brilliance. I'm somewhere on the fence. I purchased it because of Toni Morrison's esteemed endorsement (and she's my literary queen!)...but Dumas writes from a place that's heavily inspired by themes that are so contemporaneous to the 1950s and 60s that it's hard to connect. Other times he writes big, heady fables that really take a lot of effort to understand. This book was a bit of a challenge; one of those books that has me asking myself if I'm intelligent enough to fully appreciate its brilliance. I'm somewhere on the fence. I purchased it because of Toni Morrison's esteemed endorsement (and she's my literary queen!)...but Dumas writes from a place that's heavily inspired by themes that are so contemporaneous to the 1950s and 60s that it's hard to connect. Other times he writes big, heady fables that really take a lot of effort to understand.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brian Slattery

    I cannot believe it took me so long to discover Henry Dumas.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Markus

    Great short stories about civil rights and black life in the US (both rural and urban), set during a few different times and wavering between realist, eerie, mystical and symbolist tones. This is a must-read, but sometimes hard to find as a physical book outside the US. It is available on audible and from openlibrary though, so please give it a try.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ives Phillips

    DNF'd at 36%. For all of the accolades given to this collection and the anticipation built up for the Coffeehouse Press edition, I had high hopes that this would be a collection of incredible and thought-provoking pieces that leads to some soul searching and presenting the human condition, as well as the richness of African American culture, in a new light. But this was a nightmare to read. It was boring. Not even the prose was rich and unique, which would normally keep me interested in a story DNF'd at 36%. For all of the accolades given to this collection and the anticipation built up for the Coffeehouse Press edition, I had high hopes that this would be a collection of incredible and thought-provoking pieces that leads to some soul searching and presenting the human condition, as well as the richness of African American culture, in a new light. But this was a nightmare to read. It was boring. Not even the prose was rich and unique, which would normally keep me interested in a story until at least the 50% mark.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Viola

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/12/... DECEMBER 4, 2020 Henry Dumas: The Death and Resurrection of a “Cult” Poet BY ISHMAEL REED A few years ago, the most powerful Black editor in New York asked me to submit outlines for two books he wanted to publish. I went one better. I submitted two manuscripts. He told me that the salespeople rejected them because “they’d only win prizes and critical acclaim.” Judging by trends in Black literature, the salespeople have won out. In a Poets and Writers’ interv https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/12/... DECEMBER 4, 2020 Henry Dumas: The Death and Resurrection of a “Cult” Poet BY ISHMAEL REED A few years ago, the most powerful Black editor in New York asked me to submit outlines for two books he wanted to publish. I went one better. I submitted two manuscripts. He told me that the salespeople rejected them because “they’d only win prizes and critical acclaim.” Judging by trends in Black literature, the salespeople have won out. In a Poets and Writers’ interview, a superior novelist, Elizabeth Nunez, complains that publishers demand “girlfriend books” from Black authors. The other genre that’s trending might be called “how-to-get-along-with-Black people,” an auxiliary of the self-improvement industry. The recent list of 100 Black fiction writers compiled by U.S.A. Today, leaned heavily toward the fiction of Black women, but even that category omitted major Black women writers like Nunez, Charlene Hatcher Polite, Kristin Hunter Lattany, and Margaret Walker, whose “Jubilee!” should be taught in tandem with “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a view of slavery from the inside and one from the outside. The dean of Black writers, Louise Merriweather, is also missing. Her Daddy Was a Number Runner, a Harlem classic, did not receive the backing that powerful interests accorded a few male novelists of her time and those interests were probably offended by some of her characterizations. The novel takes place in the 1930s, and the prevalent conditions then–evictions, police brutality, etc.–exist now. Of course, if she were a white novelist of her stature there would be no need for a Go Fund Me effort to assist in her recovering from the Covid virus. She’s bedridden and requires round the clock care. She’s $6,000 short of her $30,000 goal. The male novelists of her generation, to flatter liberal book buyers, were required to pose as the literary sons of a white master. Maybe that’s why novelist Ralph Ellison, who cited as his influences Eliot, Faulkner, and Hemingway, named Vachel Lindsay as Henry Dumas’s literary father. Lindsay would probably object. Though Vachel Lindsay used the term Jazz in some of his titles, and his “Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan,” which I have anthologized, is early Hip Hop, he despised Jazz. He said that he resented being called a “Jazz poet” because the phrase has been used to mean something “synonymous with hysteria, shrieking, and fidgets. I abhor the kind of ballroom dancing that goes with jazz, jazz is hectic, has the leer of the badlands in it, and first, last, and always is hysteric. It is full of the dust of the dirty dance. The saxophone, its chief instrument, is the most diseased instrument in all modern music; it absolutely smells of the hospital.” Jazz has kept generations of Black writers sane. Writers like James Baldwin depended upon Jazz as a cure for depression. Though Toni Morrison called the late Henry Dumas “a genius,” and championed his work while an editor at Random House, Ralph Ellison said of Dumas, according to Dumas’ biographer Jeffrey B. Leak, author of Visible Man: The Life of Henry Dumas: “If that Vachal Lindsay poem-writing nigger shows up at my door,” Ellison thundered, “tell him I’m not here. I’ll hide in the supply closet if I have to, to get away from him.” A “Vachel Lindsay poem writing nigger?” I’ve found nothing in Henry Dumas’s work that would connect him to Lindsay, author of perhaps the most abominably racist poem in the American library. ”The Congo,” subtitled, “A Study of the Negro Race. Their Basic Savagery.” It contains the kind of lines that one might find among the comments in social media favored by thousands of policemen like “Tattooed Cannibals.” One might attribute Ellison’s comment to his fear, cited by his biographer Arnold Rampersad, of a younger generation that might replace him and other Black Modernists, who’d been intimidated by government committees that found Black writers less than loyal. In a review of Arnold Rampersad’s prize-winning biography of Ellison, Charles Matthews writes, “As a member of the exclusive Century Club in New York, he made no effort to recruit other black members (and strongly opposed the admission of women). He steadily refused to provide blurbs for the books of younger black writers.” Or it might have been based upon a regional bias. Ellison and his friends were urbane and part of the New York elite. The Century Club was a place where, according to Ellison, one could have “good food, drink, and a good conversation.” Some of Dumas’s characters prefer soda pop. While Big Bill Broonzy showed that to play the country Blues, all one needed was a Harmonica and your stomping foot, Ellison and his friends preferred Urban Blues. His friend Albert Murray wrote a book (Good Morning Blues) about Count Basie. The Black modernists were influenced by Sartre, André Malraux, Marx, Freud, and Existentialism. They often muted their characters with heavy-handed psychoanalysis. Dumas’s characters go to church. They don’t deal in ambiguities and alienation. And when they speculate about metaphysics, it takes a humorous turn. In the short story, “The Voice,” which takes place in Harlem, on the way to a memorial held to commemorate the death of a friend, whether God exists is discussed by members of a singing group. During their journey, which is expertly directed by Dumas, with minor characters entering and exiting, they pick up passersby who join the confab. When Steve Cannon, Quincy Troupe, and I interviewed Ellison he spoke of the down-home attempt to stifle the imagination. Well, down-home didn’t stifle Dumas’s imagination. Though some of his scenes have a setting in places like Harlem, he was at home in the country. In one story, one learns how pecans are grown. In another, traffic is held up by a cattle crossing. His literary skills can be viewed in the classic anthology Black Fire, edited by Larry Neal and Amiri Baraka. His “Ark of Bones” is considered his masterpiece. Another reason for Ellison’s nervousness with Dumas was Dumas’s alignment with the proletariat writers of the 1930s, a radical period in Ellison’s history that he and his publisher sought to expunge. Before I left New York for California in 1967, I used to hear from Dumas. He’d call me while I was living in Chelsea. His persistence was mistaken for imposition. He seemed to have boundless energy. Maybe he knew that he had to make use of every moment because he would die young. Ironically, the writer who wrote about police brutality would be the victim of a policeman. On May 23rd, 1968, Dumas was shot in New York while entering a subway turnstile. He was thirty-three. There were no cameras there to record the shooting. No demonstrations. Black Lives Matter hadn’t been invented. Toni Morrison said that it was a case of mistaken identity. His widow Loretta Dumas received no compensation from New York. She had to raise two sons alone. They both committed suicide, David in 1987 and Michael in 1994. It was because of her and the efforts of poet Eugene Redmond, the executor of his estate, that the “cult” writer will achieve a wider audience. His collection of short stories, “Goodbye Sweetwater,” will be published in December. On Saturday, PEN Oakland, called “The Blue Collar PEN,” by the New York Times, will award Dumas a posthumous Adelle Foley Award, named for the late Oakland poet and humanist. Ishmael Reed is the author of The Complete Muhammad Ali.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    This is by far my favorite collection of short stories, the best that I've ever come across and will be hard to beat for sure. To understand these wonderfully written tales fully, is to understand their author, Henry Dumas. Born in a small, predominantly black town of Sweet Home, Arkansas , Dumas was raised in the church until moving to New York City. After graduating from high school in 1953, he joined the Air Force, stationed in San Antonio originally and then once more in Saudi Arabia. These This is by far my favorite collection of short stories, the best that I've ever come across and will be hard to beat for sure. To understand these wonderfully written tales fully, is to understand their author, Henry Dumas. Born in a small, predominantly black town of Sweet Home, Arkansas , Dumas was raised in the church until moving to New York City. After graduating from high school in 1953, he joined the Air Force, stationed in San Antonio originally and then once more in Saudi Arabia. These three areas shaped Dumas' personality and writing significantly, each contributing to the content and artistic style of his works. Sweet Home, a small rural Southern town influenced Dumas to incorporate folklore and Christian inspired themes, while northern urban Harlem gave Dumas a new cultural and political perspective during times of social unrest, uprising and rebellion, and Saudi Arabia broadening Dumas' spiritual consciousness and connection with a Higher force. Whether tales that serve as an extended metaphor for the injustices committed against Africans and black Americans during the times of enslavement and Jim Crow like "Ark of Bones" , "Rope of Wind" and "Fon" , tales that describe Urban black life post-Great Migration and during the Black Power movement like " A Harlem Game" , "Scout" and " Strike and Fade" , to an exercise of language,creativity and visual writing like " Will the Circle Be Unbroken ?" , "The Devil Bird" and more, Dumas wonderfully and masterfully paints pictures via written word. There's not one story I didn't enjoy , and I will be re-reading soon to fully experience and grasp the various magical worlds Dumas was able to pen into existence.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Fen

    Henry Dumas more than lives up to his reputation. Even though he died so young, he left behind an accomplished body of work. This collection also fits in perfectly with Coffee House Press' catalog--his stories do not fit neatly into any genre category. He wrote realist stories right alongside surreal ones, sometimes veering into the mythical, or into science fiction. The realist stories are likely autobiographical, since they feature young men growing up in rural Arkansas. I can't say any of thes Henry Dumas more than lives up to his reputation. Even though he died so young, he left behind an accomplished body of work. This collection also fits in perfectly with Coffee House Press' catalog--his stories do not fit neatly into any genre category. He wrote realist stories right alongside surreal ones, sometimes veering into the mythical, or into science fiction. The realist stories are likely autobiographical, since they feature young men growing up in rural Arkansas. I can't say any of these stories is my favorite, which is actually a compliment. There are no ups and downs, because the collection is consistent and every story worth reading. The realist ones, perhaps, feel a bit repetitive after a while, and some feel like they could have used another draft. Those small nitpicks aside, reading Echo Tree put me into the minds of young black men in times and places entirely foreign to me. I've read Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin, and none of those authors has been nearly as effective in this regard as Dumas. He really gets to the crux of what it means to grow up in an atmosphere of poverty and oppression, where lynching and other forms of violence against blacks are the norm. He also documents the Civil Rights movement and the clash between radicals like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. The editors of the collection have immaculately ordered the stories. The ending could not be more perfect.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Hank

    A short story writer more Americans should be reading. Sure, Dumas was "ahead of his time" in his thinking about race and revolt, but I'm equally interested in his approach to genre. The man dabbled in fabulism, science fiction, realism, and surrealism while drawing from jazz, folklore, and voodoo. He was incredibly versatile, and doesn't get enough credit for it. Not every story in Echo Tree is a bonafide masterpiece. However, you have to admire Dumas' experimentation even in the lesser cuts. As A short story writer more Americans should be reading. Sure, Dumas was "ahead of his time" in his thinking about race and revolt, but I'm equally interested in his approach to genre. The man dabbled in fabulism, science fiction, realism, and surrealism while drawing from jazz, folklore, and voodoo. He was incredibly versatile, and doesn't get enough credit for it. Not every story in Echo Tree is a bonafide masterpiece. However, you have to admire Dumas' experimentation even in the lesser cuts. As for the masterpieces--just read them. There's a reason so many great writers have lauded Dumas. It's a shame he didn't live to see this collection make its way into the world. Thank you, Coffeehouse Press. Choice cuts: Ark of Bones, Echo Tree, Riot or Revolt, Will the Circle Be Unbroken NPR article about Dumas' life and death: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswit...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Baibhav Sharma

    This has been the most complete picture of afro-surrealist literature I've read ever. All of the stories embody some quality of Afro-surrealist movement or the other. Henry Dumas was one of the most influential American authors, albeit not as well recognized. Please read his short stories or poems if you haven't. They have been ever-relevant to the racial climate in the US, but a conscious rediscovery of works by the likes of Dumas right now would enlighten and fit the our current times. This has been the most complete picture of afro-surrealist literature I've read ever. All of the stories embody some quality of Afro-surrealist movement or the other. Henry Dumas was one of the most influential American authors, albeit not as well recognized. Please read his short stories or poems if you haven't. They have been ever-relevant to the racial climate in the US, but a conscious rediscovery of works by the likes of Dumas right now would enlighten and fit the our current times.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Cane

    Henry Dumas' work is the epitome of African American speculative fiction. As a southerner I can truly appreciate many of his tales, in which, they capture the essence of our mystical nature as a people. Henry Dumas' work is the epitome of African American speculative fiction. As a southerner I can truly appreciate many of his tales, in which, they capture the essence of our mystical nature as a people.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Theresa Blackman

    Mix 2 parts Langston Hughes with 1 part (more accessible) Faulkner; add a generous dollop of Bradbury and voilá! Henry Dumas. This collection is magnificent. And timely. And tragic. And BEAUTIFUL. 4.5 stars.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

    I’m disappointed that I haven’t come across Henry Dumas earlier. One of the best, and most imaginative, American writers.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Pullen

    An important book by an important writer.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Solita

    These are beautifully written stories. I mean beautiful writing. For me, reading this collection of short fiction was an amazing experience. I will def read more Henry Dumas. I don't recall every hearing about Dumas, and if I did, it was my mistake not to read him long before now. I came his across his name recently, so I decided to take a looksee. Wow, I'm so glad I did. This is the sort of writing I live to read. According to Dumas' bio, he was born in Sweet Home, Arkansas in 1934, moved to Ha These are beautifully written stories. I mean beautiful writing. For me, reading this collection of short fiction was an amazing experience. I will def read more Henry Dumas. I don't recall every hearing about Dumas, and if I did, it was my mistake not to read him long before now. I came his across his name recently, so I decided to take a looksee. Wow, I'm so glad I did. This is the sort of writing I live to read. According to Dumas' bio, he was born in Sweet Home, Arkansas in 1934, moved to Harlem when he was ten. He joined the Air Force, attended Rutgers, worked for IBM, taught at Hiram College in Ohio, and Southern Illinois University. In 1968, when he was only thirty-three, he was shot and killed by a New York Transit Authority policeman. "Under mysterious circumstances." (Hmm.) He was published posthumously and his work established him as central figure in the Black Arts Movement and an important voice in American Letters. Brilliant and beautiful writer.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    I like my short story collections succise when they've sufficed, so exactly that: short. Most ‘collected works’ on my shelves have pristine spines beyond their midpoint, often leaving my guilt tank half full (or half empty when the weather’s nice). However, Henry Dumas, though sprinkling many of the same thematic toppings, offers the reader every flavor in the parlor. Most of the stories deserve pause, post read, to let what just happened wash over, only to immediately rev the curiosity into the I like my short story collections succise when they've sufficed, so exactly that: short. Most ‘collected works’ on my shelves have pristine spines beyond their midpoint, often leaving my guilt tank half full (or half empty when the weather’s nice). However, Henry Dumas, though sprinkling many of the same thematic toppings, offers the reader every flavor in the parlor. Most of the stories deserve pause, post read, to let what just happened wash over, only to immediately rev the curiosity into the next.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mikal

    An interesting volume of short fiction and poetry, reflecting the ongoing search of identity and emancipation of the African American. It being an anthology, not really an all the way through read. A great set of abstract works.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rita

    See my email to self, subj; Toni Morrison. this may be the book of his for me to get and read. he wrote poetry, and short stories.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Law

    His last story "Riot or Revolt?" about the day after a riot in Harlem prompted by the police shooting a Black boy is, sadly, all to familiar. His last story "Riot or Revolt?" about the day after a riot in Harlem prompted by the police shooting a Black boy is, sadly, all to familiar.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    Fiction D8866e 2003

  20. 4 out of 5

    Eddie Sulecki

    Very good stories, I would recommend to those interested in African American literature.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Esauis

  22. 4 out of 5

    Extramural Writer

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jb Fulcher

  24. 5 out of 5

    Fay

  25. 4 out of 5

    danté

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jana

  27. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mary

  29. 4 out of 5

    Fred

  30. 5 out of 5

    Amy Lee

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