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.
In fact, a modified version of Dante’s system is provided at the beginning of the book. But don’t get trapped into attempting to marry each section of Baraka’s narrative to Dante’s map of Hell.
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I grew up in San Diego, California, although I was born in North Carolina and my folks were from Arizona. Right after the war we lived in what is now a very posh area of San Diego—Point Loma—but when my Dad got into San Diego State College on the G. I. Bill, we moved to married student’s housing down by the jetty in Old Town. Most of the living arrangements in that area of town were temporary plywood multi-units built for the influx of workers for the war industries: building airplanes and ships. In Southern California where the weather is friendly, temporary buildings tend to last a long time. When I came home from New Jersey to surprise my buddy who was getting married, they held his bachelor party in a newly built townhouse on the side of a long hill where, until that visit, I would see only those old two-story plywood firetraps still being used to house the less fortunate of San Diego.
Continue reading “Is Race a Bigger Myth Than God?”
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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