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Henry Dumas Portrait

Henry Dumas was born in Sweet Home, Arkansas, where he spent the first ten years of his life. It was long enough to absorb gospel music and the folk traditions of the South. At that point, he moved to Harlem, where he lived until joining the Air Force, a stint that included a year in the Middle East. All these experiences found a place in his poetry; "Son of Msippi" recalls his years in the South, while "Knees of a Natural Man" evokes the urban world of New York. He had spent some time at City College and at Rutgers, but never completed a degree. A stronger influence was no doubt his energetic civil rights work in the mid-1960s. In 1967, he took a job as a teacher and counselor at Southern Illinois University, where he met the poet Eugene Redmond. Only a year, later Dumas was gunned down in error by a New York City Transit policeman; it is to Redmond's posthumous editing that we owe his poems and short stories. Since most of Dumas’s poetry was not published during his lifetime, the dates offered are speculative. We do, however, know that he was performing “Son of Msippi” and “Black Star Line” at poetry readings during the last years of his life.