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The Systems of Dante’s Hell, Amiri Baraka

March 21, 2016

The Systems of Dante’s Hell, by Amiri Baraka.  Akashic Books (2016),  Reprint, 160 pages.  (First published in 1965.)

Angry, experimental prose by an influential twentieth-century African American.

Amiri Baraka (1934-2004) was a leading voice in defining African American literature.  He was a poet, a novelist, a music critic, and university teacher who exhorted blacks to create their own artistic forms rather than imitate those of whites. He and his political writing has been widely praised and attacked.  In the 1960s, he gave up his birth name, LeRoy Jones, and took a leading role in the more militant movements of the time rather than in the non-violent civil rights movement. His later work lays bare black hatred and violence.  The System of Dante’s Hell, written at this time, is meant to convey the depths of pain and isolation in urban ghettos. Written largely in prose, the book is highly complex, impressionistic, and non-linear.

While I recognize Baraka’s power and wanted to read his work,  I lacked the skill to decipher his words.  His anger and contempt were evident, but I needed more structure.  I applaud Akashic Books for republishing this important book and recommend it to more cosmopolitan readers than myself.

Thanks to Akashic Books for a review copy of this book.



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