My favorite work of African American literature is a neglected classic, LORD OF DARK PLACES by Hal Bennett. This powerful novel challenges all assumptions about race in America and the legacy of racism. Joe Market, the protagonist, is the opposite of Bigger Thomas, making the work an ironic counter-novel to Richard Wright's NATIVE SON, much as Fielding's TOM JONES serves as the counterpoint to Richardson's CLARISSA. I would urge departments of Black Studies to assign both novels and ask students to discuss the underlying basis for their juxtaposition.
Bennett is a truly great writer but his death went unnoticed. He exiled himself to Mexico, where he became largely forgotten. LORD OF DARK PLACES was reissued by a small, independent publisher a few years ago, an event that also went unnoticed. This is a terrible pity. It is an original and disturbing masterpiece, so disturbing in fact, that this is probably the reason for its neglect. The prose is magnificent, the characterizing amazing. Well-plotted, it holds your attending constantly. LORD OF DARK PLACES, I submit, belongs in the canon, not just of African American literature, but American literature in general. I consider its neglect to be a national disgrace that this blog could rectify by honoring it.
Richard Cummings, Ph.D. Jesus College Cambridge (the writer taught both at the Haile Sellassie I University in Addis Ababa and the University of the West Indies in Barbados. He is the author of the forthcoming novel, PRAYERS IF AN IBO RABBI, Africana Heritage Legacy Publishers, which has received advance praise from Chinua Achebe.)