The System of Dante’s Hell

I highly recommend Amiri Baraka’s experimental novel from the ’60s, The System of Dante’s Hell. Written under the poet’s name at that time, LeRoi Jones, Baraka gives a highly personal, somewhat autobiographical, account of how the experience of being a black man can be related in terms suggestive of Hell as developed by Dante in the Inferno.

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Amiri Baraka


While studying poetry at the university in the sixties, I was a follower of Leroi Jones . If you haven’t seen the movie made of Dutchman, look it up. Not only was it an intriguing adaptation of the Flying Dutchman story and an important commentary on the black experience in America but it also co-starred a young and vivacious Shirley Knight (look her up, she’s still a regular in the movies … but she has definitely changed).

Since I was a one-time resident of Newark, New Jersey, Amiri was very much a local hero. Still, Amiri Baraka was undeniably controversial but he was also a great American … he forced us to pay attention.

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