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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Richard Wright, Black Boy

Black BoyBlack Boy is routinely listed as Richard Wright’s autobiographical novel. But it’s important to realize that this work is not an autobiography or even a memoir: it is fiction. As such the author is free to use the elements of his life as grist for his fiction, but we should always read his story with the understanding that the events and characters in the novel may sometimes be manipulated for effect if they actually even occurred (emphasize: IF they are even remotely related to actual events).

A novel such as Black Boy should never be relied upon to tell the truth about a life and often cannot even be relied upon to project the essence of a life (although often fiction does a much better job of portraying truth than any non-fictional account).

Overall, I enjoy reading Wright; he’s certainly not the best writer and his narrative techniques are pedestrian at best. But Wright does a good job of portraying the black experience and for that reason he is a must read.

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