ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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 The vulnerability of black children amid the Southern white lynch-mob mentality, a young sharecropper encountering

a civil-rights worker, and whites experiencing the mystical force of black music are among the subjects Dumas examined

in his short stories, many of which were collected in Ark of Bones (1970) and Rope of Wind (1979)




Books by Eugene Redmond

Sides of the River (1969)  /  Sentry of the Four Golden Pillars (1970) / River of Bones and Flesh and Blood (1971) / Songs from an Afro/Phone (1972)

 In a Time of Rain & Desire (1973) / Echo Tree: The Collected Short Fiction of Henry Dumas (2003) / Drumvoices

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Books by Henry Dumas


Ark of Bones (1970) / Poetry for My People (1971) /   Play Ebony  Play Ivory   (1974)  / Jonah and the Green Stone (1976)


 Rope of Wind and Other Stories (1979)  / Goodbye, Sweetwater (1988) / Knees of a Natural Man: The Selected Poetry of Henry Dumas (1989)


 Echo Tree: The Collected Short Fiction of Henry Dumas

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Play Ebony Play Ivory

By Henry Dumas

Edited by Eugene B. Redmond


134 pp. New York / Random House. / Cloth $5.95 Paper $2.95


Henry Dumas was born on July 29, 1934, in Sweet Home, Arkansas, and had completed a Ulyssean journey by the time he was shot to death by a policeman in a New York subway on May 23, 1968. That journey included migration at the age of ten to Harlem, to the north where he attended New York public schools  He join the U.S. Air Force in 1953 and was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas; he also spent a year stationed on the Arabian Peninsula. While in the Air Force, Dumas won creative-writing awards for his contributions to Air Force periodicals.

In 1955, he married Loretta Ponton. The couple had two children, David and Michael. After returning from his tour with the Air Force in 1957, Dumas attended City College and Rutgers University. Known for his work as a publicist and teacher, Dumas helped to develop the "little magazine" circuit. In the early 1960s, Dumas transported food and clothing to protesters in Tennessee and Mississippi. Dumas remained active in the civil rights and Black Power movements for the remainder of his life.

In 1967, he taught at Hiram College in Ohio  in the Upward Bound Program (where he served on the staff of the Hiram Poetry Review).

Later that year (1967) Dumas became the director of language workshops at Southern Illinois University's Experiment in Higher Education Program (at the time of his death, was teacher-counselor and director of language workshops).

In April of 1968, at the age of thirty-three, Dumas was shot and killed by a New York Transit Authority Policeman at 125th Street Station in a case of "mistaken identity." At the time of his death, he had already finished several manuscripts of poetry and short stories.

dumas1.jpg (22708 bytes)

In 1970 SIU press published limited editions of Dumas' posthumously collected poetry and prose. And since the time of his death, his writings have appeared in numerous anthologies, some of which are Black Out Loud, Open Poetry, The Poetry of Black America, Understanding the New Black Poetry, Words Among America and Brothers and Sisters.

The vulnerability of black children amid the Southern white lynch-mob mentality, a young sharecropper encountering a civil-rights worker, and whites experiencing the mystical force of black music are among the subjects Dumas examined in his short stories, many of which were collected in Ark of Bones (1970) and Rope of Wind (1979). Nature, revolutionary politics, and music are especially frequent subjects of his poetry, which is noted for its faithfulness to the language and cadence of African-American speech.

Authors including James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Maya Angelou have celebrated his writing for its mixture of natural and supernatural phenomena, music, beauty, and revolutionary politics.

Dumas' poetry, short fiction, and novels have been published posthumously in large part due to the efforts of Eugene Redmond, Toni Morrison, and Quincy Troupe. Play Ebony  Play Ivory   first appeared in 1970 and was later published as Play Ebony, Play Ivory. When Play Ebony, Play Ivory appeared in 1974, Julius Lester in the New York Times Book Review called Dumas "the most original Afro-American poet of the sixties."

Dumas' first collection of short fiction, Ark of Bones and Other Stories, was first published in 1974. Redmond has also helped to bring out an unfinished novel, Jonah and the Green Stone (1976), as well as the collections Rope of Wind and Other Stories (1979), Goodbye, Sweetwater (1988), and Knees of a Natural Man: The Selected Poetry of Henry Dumas (1989).

The Henry Dumas Memorial Library has been established at SIU's experimental college. And the Hiram Poetry Review sponsors an annual poetry contest in Dumas' name. he is survived by his wife, Loretta Dumas, and two sons, David and Michael.

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About the Editor (in 1975)

Eugene B. Redmond, poet, essayist and playwright, is professor of English and Poet-in-Residence at California State University, Sacramento. He has taught at several United States colleges and universities, including Southern Illinois University, where he was a colleague of Henry Dumas. Redmond's books of poetry are Sides of the River (1969,) Sentry of the Four Golden Pillars (1970), River of Bones and Flesh and Blood (1971), Songs from an Afro/Phone (1972), Consider Loneliness As These Things, and In a Time of Rain & Desire 1973); his LP recording of poetry, Bloodlinks and Sacred Places, was released by Black River Writers in 1973. He edited Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry, A Critical History (1976) and Echo Tree: The Collected Short Fiction of Henry Dumas (2003)

During the sixties, Redmond edited Midwestern community newspapers and served for two years as senior consultant to Katherine Dunham at the Performing Arts Training Center in East St. Louis. His writings have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including Black World, Journal of Black Poetry, The Black Scholar, Open Poetry, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Black Orpheus, American Dialog, Discourses on Poetry and The New Black Poetry.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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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

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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 / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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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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update 25 March 2012




Home  Eugene B. Redmond Table Black Arts and Black Power Figures

Related files:  Introduction Play Ebony  Henry Dumas Bio  Play Ebony Review