An expansive collection of essays, interviews, poetry, and fiction by the New Orleans writer.
In the introduction, friend, fellow writer, and former apprentice Salaam (The Magic of Juju: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement, 2016, etc.) describes New Orleans writer Tom Dent (1932-1998) as a “griot,” which he defines as “a combined modern day, culturally grounded ethno-cultural anthropologist facing his past, as well as a public intellectual/cultural activist confronting his present.” It is an apt characterization given Dent’s range as a writer—fiction, journalism, poetry, and more—as well as his being a central figure in the Free Southern Theater in New Orleans and the Umbra writers collective in New York City. In every instance, Dent’s work reflects his commitment to black community and social responsibility, using writing as a means of expressing the political issues he was passionate about and the social injustice he fought against. One of the collection’s standouts is the story “Legacy of the Scottish Owner’s Will,” which is set in 1870 and features an elderly emancipated slave who ruminates on the nature of the black struggle for freedom and an impatience for civil equality. This early story was composed during Dent’s brief stint in New York, and it was upon his return to New Orleans that he began using journalism as his preferred medium for tackling issues of racial injustice, black identity, and civil rights. Among the other highlights of this period are “Beyond Rhetoric: Toward a Black Southern Theater,” a 1971 essay that advocates for a socially conscious aesthetic over spectacle; essays on Mardi Gras and New Orleans jazz musicians; and several illuminating interviews. While Dent’s work represents a minor, albeit interesting chapter in the American canon, its resonance is perhaps more deeply felt today.
A comprehensive portrait of the influential New Orleans writer whose oeuvre reflects the racial tensions of the times and is equally relevant today.