Bennett, George Harold “Hal” 1930
George Harold “Hal” Bennett 1930–
George Harold “Hal” Bennett crafted a series of satirical novels about the African-American experience between 1939 and 1975. Sprinkling his work with a great sense of the absurd, Bennett has been likened to satirists Wallace Thurman and George S. Schuyler. Bennett does not spare readers the gory details of life, however; he exposes social hypocrisy, violence, and sexual undercurrents with vivid accuracy. His blending of the absurd with cutting realism has made his novels somewhat controversial. Reviewing Lord of Dark Places in Library Journal in 1970, critic Victor A. Kramer wrote: “Delicate sensibilities should not read this novel…” Bennett’s work pulses with explorations of the social impact of being an African American, including social distinctions based on skin coloring, the myth of the black man’s sexual prowess, and what it is like to come of age as an African-American male in the United States.
Bennett was born on April 21, 1930, in Buckingham, Virginia, but he grew up and attended schools in Newark, New Jersey. He sold his first short story when he was 15 years old and wrote features for the Newark Herald News at 16 years old. Bennett’s memories of summers spent in Virginia serve as a basis for the fictional town of “Burnside,” Virginia, the setting for many of his novels and short stories. His fictional “Cousinville” also gains much of its flavor from Bennett’s time growing up in New Jersey. During the Korean War Bennett served in the Public Information Division of the U.S. Air Force, writing articles and editing a newspaper for 15,000 airmen. Upon his return from duty, he attempted to start a newspaper with several others in Westbury, Long Island, but was unsuccessful. He was more adept at writing than publishing, and he contributed articles to several African-American newspapers from 1951 to 1953.
Bennett then moved to Mexico City, Mexico, attending Mexico City College. The Centro Mexicano de Escritores at the college chose him as a fellow, allowing him to write his first novel, A Wilderness of Vines, published in 1966. Ronald Walcott claimed in Contemporary Literary Criticism that “A Wilderness of Vines was a flawed, awkward, at times ineptly written, but insightful and occasionally provocative work.” The satire won Bennett much critical acclaim and another fellowship for fiction from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference at Middlebury College, in Ripton, Vermont, in 1966.
From this fellowship, Bennett wrote his second novel, The Black Wine (1968). New York Times contributor Charles Wright claimed in a review of The Black Wine that “Bennett gets right down into the watermelon patch and forces you to nibble the rind.” From his first two novels, Bennett perfected his skills and soon earned praise for his skillful writing as well as his unique perspective on African American life.
Bennett was named the most promising young writer of 1970 by Playboy magazine, for his short story “Dotson Gerber Resurrected.” In that same year Bennett published his third novel, Lord of the Dark Places, for which Ronald Walcott proclaimed him “…one of the most original and gifted Black satirists to come along
Born George Harold Bennett on April 21, 1930, in Buckingham, VA, Education: Mexico City College Military Service. U.S. Air Force; writer for Public Information Division and editor of newspaper for 15,000 airmen in Korea.
Career: Newark Herald News, feature writer, 1946; African-American newspapers, fiction editor, 1953-55; author, 1961-.
Awards: Centro Mexicano de Escritores, Mexico City College, Fellow; Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference Fiction Fellowship, for Wilderness of Vines, 1966; Playboy magazine, Most Promising Young Writer of the Year, for the short story “Dotson Gerber Resurrected” 1970; PEN/Faulkner Award, for fiction, 1973.
since Wallace Thurman of Infants of the Spring,” in Black World. This book went through a second publication in 1997, when critic David Ulin from Salon called it an attempt “…to explicate every myth perpetrated about black men in America, and in so doing, destroy them all.”
Bennett’s next novel, Wait Until the Evening (1974), was reviewed in the New York Times by Jonathan Yardley, who claimed “The novel is written very much from a “black” viewpoint, but Bennett reveals himself to have a deep understanding of the complexity and difficulty of interracial communication.” Seventh Heaven is Bennett’s most recent novel, published in 1976. An October 1, 1976 Library Journal review by L. W. Griffin declared that “Seventh Heaven brings a message of black despair, black rage, and at the same time black ebullience and resilience.” Bennett also put together a collection of short stories, entitled Insanity; Runs in Our Family (1977), which includes “Dotson Gerber Resurrected.”
The Mexico City Poems and House on Hay, Obsidian Press, 1961.
A Wilderness of Vines, Doubleday, 1966.
The Black Wine, Doubleday, 1968.
Lord of Dark Places, Norton, 1970.
Wait Until the Evening, Doubleday, 1974.
Seventh Heaven, Doubleday, 1976.
Insanity Runs in Our Family, Doubleday, 1911.
Andrews, William L., Frances Smith Foster, and Trudier Harris, eds., The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 57-58.
Bell, Bernard W., The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition, University of Massachusetts Press, 1987, pp.324-329.
Davis, Thadious M., and Trudier Harris, eds., Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 33: Afro-American Fiction Writers After 1955, Gale, 1984.
Metzger, Linda, ed., Black Writers: A Selection of Sketches from Contemporary Authors, Gale, 1989, pp. 45-46.
Page, James A., Selected Black American Authors: An Illustrated Bio-Bibliography, G.K. Hall & Co., 1977, p. 14.
Spradling, Mary Mace, ed., In Black and White, Gale, 1980, p. 74.
Valade, Roger M. HI, The Schomberg Center Guide to Black Literature, Gale, 1996, pp. 41, 266.
Black World, June 1974, pp.37-48; July 1974, pp. 78-98.
Harper’s, December 1969, p. 130.
Kirkus, June 1,1966, p. 550; December 15,1967, p. 1484; August 15, 1970, p. 896; July 1, 1974, p.694; June 15, 1976, p. 698.
Library Journal, July 1966, p. 3465; April 15, 1968, p. 1820; November 1, 1970, p. 3803; October 1, 1974, p.2498; October 1, 1976, p. 2082.
New York Times, October 6, 1970, p. 49.
New York Times Book Review, May 5, 1968, p. 36; and September 22, 1974, p. 14.
Publisher’s Weekly, December 4, 1967, p. 42; August 17, 1970, p. 48; July 8, 1974, p. 69; June 14, 1976, p. 101.
Times Literary Supplement, June 8, 1967, p. 515; November 12, 1971, p. 1427.
“Hal Bennett,” Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (April 12, 2004).
“Lord of Dark Places,” Rain Taxi Review of Books, www.raintaxi.com/online/1998spring/bennett.html (April 12, 2004).
“Lord of Dark Places,” Salon, www.salon.com/may97/sneaks/sneak970514.html (April 12, 2004).
“Lord of Dark Places,” Turtle Point Press, www.turtlepoint.com/catalog/frames/books/lord/lord.html (April 12, 2004).
—Mary Le Rouge
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