Henry Dumas was born in Sweet Home, Arkansas, in 1934 and moved to Harlem at the age of ten. He joined the air force in 1953 and spent a year on the Arabian Peninsula. Upon his return, Dumas became active in the civil rights movement, married, had two sons, attended Rutgers University, worked for IBM, and taught at Hiram College in Ohio and at Southern Illinois University. In 1968, at the age of thirty-three, he was shot and killed by a New York City Transit Authority police officer.
John Keene's recent books include the story collection Counternarratives (New Directions, 2016) and several books of poetry. He has also translated the Brazilian author Hilda Hilst’s novel Letters from a Seducer (Nightboat Books, 2014) and numerous other authors from Portuguese, French, and Spanish. His recent honors include an American Book Award, a Lannan Literary Award, a Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction, and a 2018 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He chairs the department of African American and African Studies and teaches English and creative writing at Rutgers University–Newark.
Eugene Redmond, a fellow teacher at Southern Illinois University, helped to make Dumas’s work available; posthumous collections of Dumas’s poetry include Play Ebony, Play Ivory (1974) and Knees of a Natural Man: The Selected Poetry of Henry Dumas (1989). Dumas’s poetry is influenced by his interests in African American history, jazz, gospel music, and Arabic culture and mythology (an interest piqued during his time stationed on the Arabian Peninsula), as well as Christianity and the supernatural. Dumas’s short stories are collected in Goodbye Sweetwater: New and Selected Stories (1988) and Echo Tree: The Collected Short Fiction of Henry Dumas (2003).