ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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Ann Bennet walked in among several other girls, a honey-colored glow, laughing that contagious

laugh, with that bewitching glide that had caught his eye the first time he’d seen her. Ann’s father

taught history and she’d been on campus before the students began to arrive for the fall semester.



Books by Sam Greenlee

The Spook Who Sat By the Door  / Ammunition! Poetry and Other Raps

Baghdad Blues: A Novel  / Blues for an African Princess

"Be-bop man/be-bop woman" 1968-1993: Poetry and other raps

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Autumn Leaves

By Sam Greenlee


The soft Indian summer breeze moved in from Lake Mendota and across the campus, brisk and with the faint sharp smell of winter only a short time away.  Don watched a leaf break away from a limb and float to the ground.  He switched his books to his left hand and let the sounds of the students greeting one another as they moved across the campus break into his thoughts.  He realized once again how natural it had all seemed and how much he had taken such things for granted for what now seemed centuries ago.

It seemed at least that long but he knew that it had been not more than a month when he’d reported for freshman football practice.  The almost deserted campus had been lonely as only a college campus can be without students; deserted, empty, stagnant.  It was as unlike as a football with no air, discarded and forgotten and lost in a closet during the summer months, as one inflated, floating high as if almost alive; a well-driven punt, with a thundering herd on the way as you waited for it to float into your waiting, impatient hands

Don had known it would be different when the other students began returning for registration and it had been.  He’d discovered for the first time that the difference between loneliness in a crowd and loneliness in a place without people is a difference in intensity; a comparison of pain, that of the dull, annoying ache of shin splints along the shin bone that comes from running on a hard surface, that could be ignored completely in a game and the sharp biting pain of a pulled muscle that slowed you down, held you back, no matter how tightly taped.

Loneliness was pain and like all pain you could learn to live with it, but he could never forget its first bite.  When the crowd of returning students first gathered in the Rathskeller, he stood, a stranger in the midst of that surging, laughing gathering and had never felt as lost as he listened to the shouts of greetings, viewed the warm hugs and handshakes and the questions concerning mutual summer activities.  He hadn’t even had the compensation of being one of the many other freshmen that could share the misery of feeling alone, estranged and the fright of being alien to the warm womb of family because he’d come to campus early for freshman football practice and hadn’t shared the closeness of being so new and so alone.  When the other freshmen had made friends in the long lines during registration, shared cokes or beer in the Rathskeller to watch with envy the easy camaraderie of the upperclassmen, he’d been shagging punts on the practice field.

He walked into the Snack Bar of the Rathskeller and waited in line for a Coke, scanning the crowd for a familiar face, then walked toward Terry Bates who’d been his roommate in the athletic dorm until cut from the squad because he was too slow for a running back and two small for a lineman or linebacker.  Terry had pledged his older brother’s fraternity, moved into their frat house and he’d not seen much of him since that time.

Don walked to their table, said hello to Terry, sat down, was introduced to his pledge brothers, then ignored as the conversation switched to the party that weekend and he was pleased that he had nothing to contribute because Ann Bennet walked in among several other girls, a honey-colored glow, laughing that contagious laugh, with that bewitching glide that had caught his eye the first time he’d seen her.

Ann’s father taught history and she’d been on campus before the students began to arrive for the fall semester.  Her father had been an all-conference running back years before and Ann was often with him when he came out to watch freshman practice.  She’d led an orientation tour for a group of the football freshmen was in his English and History classes and they’d developed a speaking acquaintance that had progressed to the small talk stage.  He’d called her twice, had been gently refused a date and the more he saw of her the more he wanted to see of her.

His glass was as empty as the talk at the table so he got up and walked to Ann’s table.  In high school he’d always laughed when other boys described their difficulty in approaching a girl they’d found attractive, but now he felt just as he did before kickoff, his stomach tense, mouth dry, a bit frightened.

“Hello, Ann, how are you?” he muttered.

“Hi,” she returned.  “How’s English coming?  Finished your theme paper yet?”

He responded and wondered what to say next if she didn’t ask him to sit down.  He could see her companions staring and he wondered what they were thinking, his hand moist on his books.

He found himself looking to see the color of her eyes, dark brown, almost black.  He suddenly knew that she wouldn’t ask him to join them so he moved off stammering something about the theme paper.

“Who was that Ann?”  One of her companions asked.  “He’s kinda cute.”

“Gee, I can never remember his name.  He’s in a couple of my classes and on the freshman football squad.”  She pondered a moment, she should know his name; however, it wasn’t really important.

“Anybody want another coke?” She asked.

Don watched through slit-opened eyes as his ankles were being taped, feeling himself withdrawing into that tight-wound space as the kickoff approached.  It would continue until everything would become hazy and far off and he’d feel as if he would drift off into a deep sleep.  He always wondered about pre-game tension described as “butterflies” in the stomach because his stomach only felt tight, as if the muscles had frozen in place and it would be that way until he was hit, threw a block, caught a pass or ran with the ball, a thing he loved.

He pulled on his shoulder pads and tried to think about Ann Bennet but he couldn’t because today’s game kept crowding in.  Today was not a scrimmage but competition under game conditions; the freshman and varsity squads had been combined and divided into equal teams and his performance today depended on being kept or cut from the squad.  He’d never been a practice star and he was on the short list he knew because he was the kind of athlete no one noticed in practice, who never seemed to have the drive, speed and fire that was ignited from the first time he ran in a real game. All he wanted was his hands on the ball.

He sat on the bench waiting to be called; his eyes half-closed slits and he seemed almost not to breathe.  He was in the huddle at last and the mixed smell of grass and sweat quickened his pulse.  His play was called; he licked his lips, smiled slightly as they broke the huddle and lined up.

He moved forward hard, seeming to hear the signal after he’d begun his motion.  The quarterback was almost too slow moving around for the handoff because Don had never moved that fast in their endless drills in practice.  He hit the hole full speed and watched Steve Johnson move in for the hit in the deceptive speed that had earned him All-Conference honors three years in a row.  Don head-faked to the left, Johnson took the fake and Don drove hard to the right, felt the arm slap his leg but he was free and knew he would go all the way and he could anticipate the feeling once he was in the clear and the goal line ahead.  He watched the corner back and safety moving in, headed for the sideline, then cut back and was free!

Don looked across the lake, wondering how long it would be before it was frozen and students would be skating on its surface, ice fishing and skate sailing as in the photographs in the catalogue the registrar had forwarded.  He thought of the girl in his last class who’d never spoken to him previously and how she’d smiled so warmly, congratulating him on his game, of the people who’d never spoken to him before and how everyone suddenly seemed to know his name.  It was easy, he’d discovered; the transition from someone no one knew the day before into someone everyone pretended to know. All you had to do was score three touchdowns in a football game! 

He was disgusted; this was the place the catalogue had described as where you found lifelong friendships but it had said nothing about bringing along a football!  He felt so homesick for the hood and his family and friends that he wanted to throw his books across campus.

His desk lamp threw weird shadows on the walls and the book lay open to the same page as an hour before.  He thought of the girl of that afternoon in his French class and how she’d told him three times in which dorm she lived and how they were having open house that Sunday and why didn’t he stop by because she’d love to show him the place and meet her friends and maybe they could study together sometime because he seemed to be so good in French and she was just lost and how did it feel to score three touchdowns in one game and she bet he’d make All-Conference his first season just like the papers said.

He thought of all the back slaps and handshakes and Terry’s brother who’d urged him to come to the fraternity rush because he was just the type man his fraternity sought.

It was easy three touchdowns!

The buzzer on the wall sounded and he walked down the hall to the phone on the wall.  It was Ann and he felt his palms begin to sweat.  Why hadn’t he called lately and how did he like the campus and how was English coming along and congratulations on his marvelous performance in the game and then it was difficult remembering the rest; something about a party that weekend and would he be her date and he was hating himself more than her for saying yes.    

Three touchdowns!

He walked back to his room, the bitterness a knot in his throat and he thought of calling her and breaking the date.  He thought of this for a while and smiled at her imagined reaction.  He sat at the desk and read for a time; then he stood, walked to the closet and fingered through his ties.  The blue and red rep would go well with his dark blue suit.  He would have to look sharp this weekend.

First published Negro Digest, January 1967

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Greenlee co-wrote a screenplay adaptation of the novel, and in 1973

The Spook Who Sat by the Door was released on film. The film was an overnight

success when it was released but was unexpectedly taken out of distribution.

For those uninitiated to this film, or the book it is based upon, here's a quick summary...

A White U.S. Senator, looking to improve his standing among Black voters, sponsors a drive for the CIA to recruit Black agents. However, everyone is graded on a curve, so all are condemned to for soft-spoken Dan Freeman. After going through grueling training in self-defence, guerilla warfare and underground operations, he is recruited to be a "reproduction chief" (he runs a photocopier in the sub-basement), and serves the CIA as a token Black employee (the term "spook" used here is both a racial slur, and a slang term for a spy).

After 5 years, he leaves the CIA to work in his native Chicago for a social services day. By night, he's using his CIA training to teach a street gang to be the vanguard in an upcoming race war...

Understandably, this film raised a lot of fears among Whites when released, and despite box office success, it vanished from distribution after only three weeks. The film-makers insist it was pressure on the film's distributors by the FBI and their COINTELPRO program against Black Nationalist groups.

Long available only on bootleg video copies and screened only on college campuses, it became an underground classic. And now, it's legitimately available on DVD.

The DVD includes the rarely seen coming attractions trailer and TV spot, as well as interviews with the book's author, Sam Greenlee (in his 70's and still as vocal as he ever was!) and film-maker Robert Townsend, who says that this film literally changed his life.

Believe the hype! This film was made against the odds (The producer struggled just to make payroll, and the outdoor scenes in Chicago were shot without permits!), and despite the years, has not lost any of it's punch!Steven F. Scharff

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Sam Greenlee—novelist, poet, screenwriter, journalist, teacher and talk show host—was born 13 July 1930 in Chicago. He attended Chicago public schools. At age fifteen,  Greenlee participated in his first sit-in and walked his first picked line. His social activism continues.  In 1952, Greenlee received his B.S. in political science from the University of Wisconsin and the following year attended law school. He transferred to the University of Chicago to study international relations from 1954 to 1957. In 1957, he began a seven-year career with the U.S. Information Agency as a foreign services officer, serving in Iraq, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Greece, and in 1958 he was awarded the Meritorious Service Award for bravery during the Baghdad revolution.

Greenlee's novel The Spook Who Sat By the Door, was published in 1968. Prize-winning its fictionalization of an urban-based war for African American liberation became an underground favorite. Greenlee co-wrote a screenplay adaptation of the novel, and in 1973 The Spook Who Sat by the Door was released on film. The film was an overnight success when it was released but was unexpectedly taken out of distribution.

Greenlee has written numerous novels, stage plays, screenplays and poems. He moved back to Chicago after several years of voluntary exile in Spain and West Africa and is hosted a radio talk show program. He is presently working on his autobiography.

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 The Spook Who Sat by the Door is about a black CIA agent who masters the skills

of a spy and then  uses them to lead a black guerrilla movement in this country

The Spook Who Sat by the Door


On YouTube

The Spook Who Sat by the Door  / Part 2 of 11 / Part 3 of 11 / Part 4 of 11 / Part 5 of 11 / Part 6 of 11

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Tracy Chapman—This Time

This Time

             By Tracy Chapman

This time
I won't show I'm vulnerable
This time
I won't give in first
This time
I will hold out with my love
This time
I will not be hurt

I'm gonna love myself
More than anyone else
I'm gonna treat me right
I'm gonna make you say
That you love me first
And you'll be the one with the most to lose tonight
This time

This time
I won't let my emotions rule my life
This time
I'm gonna keep my heart looked safe inside
This time
I'm gonna be my own best friend
This time
I'm gonna be the one

To win
Your love
Your affection
To hide
My fear
Of rejection
This time

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Sam Greenlee (born July 13, 1930) is an African American writer, best known for his novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door, first published in London by Allison & Busby in March 1969, which was made into the 1973 movie of the same name and won The Sunday Times Book of the Year award. Other works include Baghdad Blues, a 1976 novel based on his experiences traveling in Iraq in the 1950s, Blues for an African Princess, a 1971 collection of poems, and Ammunition, a 1975 collection of poems. In 1990 Greenlee was the Illinois poet laureate.

Born in Chicago, Greenlee attended the University of Wisconsin (BS, political science, 1952) and the University of Chicago (1954-7). He is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. He served in the military (1952-4), earning the rank of first lieutenant, and subsequently worked for the United States Information Agency, serving in Iraq (in 1958 he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for bravery during the Baghdad revolution), Pakistan, Indonesia, and Greece between 1957 and 1965. He undertook further study (1963-4) at the University of Thessaloniki, in Greece, where he lived for three years.Wikipedia

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Ammunition: Poetry and Other Raps

By Sam Greenlee

Greenlee is also known for such works as Blues for an African Princess (1971), a collection of poems. His novel Baghdad Blues (1976) and Ammunition: Poetry and Other Raps (1975) both deal with African Americans’ pain, anger, and fear, particularly that of those who are caught up in the racism and oppression of government agencies.

Greenlee's contributions to the literary tradition in African American literature have caused his readers to examine closely the racial awareness or unawareness within agencies and institutions that are designed to serve all Americans. His presentation of African Americans’ duality and paradoxical existence in a racist society is still providing scholars with text to investigate the themes of racism. Greenlee is masterful in his presentation of characters and community; his work is saturated with the African American literary tradition.Answers

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Sam Greenlee is relaxed. He sits lotus style on a rainbow-striped blanket, rolling cigarettes and talking in reflective, short streams about the rage that fueled his 1969 underground classic The Spook Who Sat by the Door. "I planted the seed and I'll live to see it grow," says Greenlee. The seed was a portrait of a black CIA agent who trains a Chicago street gang to orchestrate a Mau Mau-style war on whitey. Its growth was stunted, Greenlee has long contended, by a campaign to keep the 1973 film version of the book out of theaters. "They haven't discouraged me," says Greenlee, 63. "I'm old but I'm not tired. I'm satisfied with my career, I've done the right thing."

Growing up in the 30s and 40s in west Woodlawn, Greenlee lived an "idyllic" childhood filled with Sunday school, Boy Scouts, and the rural, southern values of his parents. He went to Englewood High and earned a track scholarship to the University of Wisconsin in 1948. He began a graduate degree in international relations at the University of Chicago. "I went to two white, brainwashing institutions. But I'm the black dog that didn't fall for Pavlov's scam," he says with a chuckle.

Greenlee joined the foreign service in 1957. "I wanted to see the world," he says, stroking his silver beard. "Baghdad was my first post; they were having a revolution. I was in Pakistan and Greece while both countries were having a coup. What I've lived is far more exciting than anything I could make up."

After eight years, he left the foreign service but stayed on the Greek island of Mykonos, where he began writing his first novel. "I never could write while I was surrounded by those people," he says of his colleagues. "I was so enraged when I came home every night. I was watching them undermine whole cultures. The U.S. is the biggest threat to world peace there is."—the relaxed rage of Sam Greenlee 

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Baghdad Blues

The Revolution That Brought Saddam Hussein to Power

By Sam Greenlee

This book is based on the real life experience of a black man posted to Baghdad in the late 1950s and employed by the US Information Bureau. His white colleagues are totally out of touch with the emerging political unrest protesting the corrupt royalist regime and when the revolution erupts, the US embassy is shocked. The king it supports is killed and the entire city of Baghdad is plunged into political chaos and violence. Sam Greenlee is a most engaging story teller...a very interesting read! Gives insight into Saddam Hussein's ability to rise to power given the preceding historical events.—amazon customer

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 The Spook Who Sat by the Door is about a black CIA agent who masters the skills

of a spy and then  uses them to lead a black guerrilla movement in this country

The Spook Who Sat by the Door


On YouTube

The Spook Who Sat by the Door  / Part 2 of 11 / Part 3 of 11 / Part 4 of 11 / Part 5 of 11 / Part 6 of 11

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 29 October 2010



Home   Guest Poets  Short Stories  Film Review  We Are A Dancing People

Related files: Sam Greenlee's Book (Wickham)  How the Riots Might Have Turned Out   Be-Bop Man/Be-Bop Woman   When Desoree Danced     Autumn Leaves  Snake in the Garden of Eden  

Ammunition Poetry and Other Raps   Comments on Addae "ABCs"    Exploring Sexuality from a Black Perspective