Visible Man
download cover image ►

Visible Man

The Life of Henry Dumas

Title Details

Pages: 212

Illustrations: 19 b&w photos

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 02/15/2017

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5146-9

List Price: $25.95


Pub Date: 03/01/2014

ISBN: 9-780-8203-2870-6

List Price: $41.95


Pub Date: 03/01/2014

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4710-3

List Price: $41.95

Visible Man

The Life of Henry Dumas

Skip to

  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Awards

Henry Dumas (1934–1968) was a writer who did not live to see most of his fiction and poetry in print. A son of Sweet Home, Arkansas, and Harlem, he devoted himself to the creation of a black literary cosmos, one in which black literature and culture were windows into the human condition. While he certainly should be understood in the context of the cultural and political movements of the 1960s—Black Arts, Black Power, and Civil Rights—his writing, and ultimately his life, were filled with ambiguities and contradictions.

Dumas was shot and killed in 1968 in Harlem months before his thirty-fourth birthday by a white transit policeman under circumstances never fully explained. After his death he became a kind of literary legend, but one whose full story was unknown. A devoted cadre of friends and later admirers from the 1970s to the present pushed for the publication of his work. Toni Morrison championed him as “an absolute genius.” Amiri Baraka, a writer not quick to praise others, claimed that Dumas produced “actual art, real, man, and stunning.” Eugene Redmond and Quincy Troupe heralded Dumas’s poetry, short stories, and work as an editor of “little” magazines.

With Visible Man, Jeffrey B. Leak offers a full examination of both Dumas’s life and his creative development. Given unprecedented access to the Dumas archival materials and numerous interviews with family, friends, and writers who knew him in various contexts, Leak opens the door to Dumas’s rich and at times frustrating life, giving us a layered portrait of an African American writer and his coming of age during one of the most volatile and transformative decades in American history.

Visible Man enacts a straightforward deconstruction of the life and time of the poet and writer. Leak shines a piercing light on the mystery of the artist who possessed ‘moments of brilliance’; the names and cities, the spiritual and intellectual quests, the poems and short stories, the facts, it all adds up, page by page. The reader, who journeys all the crooked paths side by side with Dumas, isn’t surprised by his violent death. But still we are left saddened and disheartened by the man’s downfall and anguish, his inability to master promise, his demise on that subway platform in New York City, mainly because Leak’s blunt clarity has transported us to a place of reckoning where we are also left gazing into the collective mirror.

—Yusef Komunyakaa, author of Testimony, A Tribute to Charlie Parker

We need this work. Leak sets so much of the record straight and knows Dumas’s creative output thoroughly. The best aspect of the book, though, is the amazing story with which Leak is working. This is an extremely rewarding read.

—Keith Gilyard, author of John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism

In this beautifully written biography of African American poet and fiction writer Henry Dumas (1934–68), Leak transports readers back to Depression-era rural Arkansas in the 1930s, the promise and excitement of Harlem in the 1940s and 1950s, and the turbulent racial politics of the 1960s.

—D. J. Rosenthal, Choice


BCALA Literary Awards, Black Caucus of the American Library Association


Outstanding Academic Title, Choice magazine

About the Author/Editor

JEFFREY B. LEAK is an associate professor of English and director of the Center for the Study of the New South at the University of North Carolina–Charlotte. He is the editor of Rac(e)ing to the Right: Selected Essays of George S. Schuyler and the author of Racial Myths and Masculinity in African American Literature.