Africanfuturism, gothic romance, ghost story, parable, psychological thriller, inner-space fiction: Henry Dumas's stories form a vivid, expansive portrait of Black life in America.
Championed by Toni Morrison and Walter Mosley, Dumas's fabulist 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 real, magical, and mythic quests. Humming with life, Dumas's stories create a collage of midcentury Black experiences, interweaving religious metaphor, African cosmologies, diasporic folklore, and America's history of slavery and systemic racism.
Henry Dumas’s stories frequently take place in a United States much as we know it today, but in which the doors to other worlds are slightly more than ajar. This porousness lends a mythic shimmer to daily life ... And within this world of expanded possibilities and persistent, violent white supremacy, we often find Dumas’s men talking about what might happen next. This new edition of Echo Tree gives us the fullest sense of the writer’s stereoscopic vision, in which popular uprisings are provoked by acts of violence, and by the Great Depression ... Dumas’s vernacular writing is lustrous and well-worn ... Dumas was an accomplished poet, and when he gathers up for a moment of sublimity in his fiction, it is to underscore quiet isolation and the need to escape ... A new introduction by John Keene provides valuable coordinates for Dumas’s fables and highlights the importance of Dumas’s political convictions after the killing of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. But Keene might have gone further ... Certain kinds of renown – many readers will know how Dumas died before they have read a page of him – tend to flatten or caricature the work, encouraging readers to seek anticipatory echoes of a terminal struggle. One need not look very far for such echoes in Dumas’s fiction, but the nature of his writing is such that I doubt it can be flattened.
Afrosurrealism and science fiction shape parts of Dumas’ work ... In Dumas’ hands, the surreal might also be meshed with folktale traditions ... Echo Tree also shows Dumas working as a fiction realist ... Echo Tree, isn’t a black artistic product performing for whites who traditionally value such performative cultural output while disregarding the lives that produce it. Dumas freed himself to experiment with an exuberant hyper-candor that can still strike untruths dead with a lethal vibration.
With a new introduction by John Keene and a new foreword by editor Eugene B. Redmond, the second edition of Henry Dumas’s short story collection Echo Tree introduces his work to a new generation. Black culture and manhood take center stage in these stories. Men’s physicality, intellect, and perception, along with the ways men code-switch, the ways they learn to navigate being at home and in society, and how they develop strength and empathy, are explored in Dumas’s lyrical, brutal prose, which orients and propels his tales to resonant endings, signaling a mastery of craft ... The dexterity with which Dumas handles his themes transfers to the ways his stories take up space in several literary movements ... 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.