Ark of Bones and the higher purpose of speculative fiction

“Ark of Bones” by Mahobbs. Image Credit:

I was told awhile ago to read “Ark of Bones”, but I kept putting it off. Not an excuse but, well, it kind of is.

I get like that sometimes.

But deciding to put it off no longer, I made the dutiful trip to my nearby favorite literary watering hole here in Detroit, the Skillman Branch library downtown,which also happens to be yet another in a long list of beautiful old buildings in this city. It’s not until you take a pause, stop, then look up and around at what surrounds you as you’re standing inside to see just how beautiful it is but…

Another story, another time.

As may now be apparent by now to anyone who has been following this blog, I’m a huge fan of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and just about any genre where reality takes a back seat while the fantastical takes the wheel. Because there are times when reality gets in the way of telling the truth. Or just plan gets in the way. So when discussing with my friend about my love for all things not quite real, he explained that I really needed to read some of Henry Dumas’ work. Especially Ark of Bones. As an African American member of that relatively small tribe of darker-hued scifi writers and practitioners, he felt it was somewhat of an obligation of mine to familiarize myself with “Ark of Bones

He was right. Except that it is  not only black scifi writers who owe it to themselves a pilgrimage to the Ark. What Dumas managed to accomplish within the brief duration of this remarkable short story is of value to any and all writers of  speculative fiction any and everywhere. What begins as seemingly a simply tale of a small adventure to be shared by two friends in a small southern town turns into an indescribably larger commentary on African American history and the African American condition  that could not have possibly been confined to a narrative fenced in by reality. For this particular telling it was necessary to venture over to the ‘other’ side, and I was in many ways so reminded of another favorite writer of mine, Toni Morrison, and her book “Song of Solomon” which changed my life as a writer and as a reader.

From “The Devil and Henry Dumas,” written by Scott Saul and published in the Boston Review in 2004:

Dumas’s truth came in riddles—fiction that was at once elusive and persuasive. Dumas’s stories are parables by and large, and they reveal the wildly speculative and broodingly contemplative aspects of the Black Arts movement. By turns droll, poignant, surreal, and unflinching in their examination of the rituals and ordeals of black life, the stories are united mostly by their refusal to revel in anything except the richness of the imagination. Dumas’s preference for open-ended tales may help explain how he has attracted a crowd of admirers—Toni Morrison, Ishmael Reed, Maya Angelou, Melvin Van Peebles, Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jayne Cortez, Arnold Rampersad—who agree on little beyond their enthusiasm for his work. Dumas’s writing can be a point of origin for any number of journeys.

Indeed it can…

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