Frank E. Dobson, Jr., Ph.D. is director of the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center and Faculty Head of House of Gillette House at Vanderbilt University. He has published fiction and nonfiction on subjects in African American literature and culture and has been the recipient of a Ford Foundation Fellowship (1992), Hurston-Head Fiction Writer’s Award from Chicago State University (1996), and a Culture Works Creative Writing Award (1999). In addition to his work at Vanderbilt University, he also teaches at Fisk University.
Rendered Invisible is a work of historical fiction that focuses on issues of race, class and gender. Much of the narrative, which is told through various voices, depicts people—both black and white–seeking safety, justice, and solace.
The central piece, “Rendered Invisible” tells the true story of a little-known occurrence in American history, the 1980 killing spree of the .22-Caliber Killer, a pathological white racist turned serial killer who murdered thirteen (13) black men during his reign of terror, his crazed yet calculated attempt to start a race war. (The killing spree began in Buffalo, NY and spread to New York City, where the killer was termed the Mid-Town Slasher.) The story seeks to offer insight on not only the killing spree but also why it has received little media attention.
At one point in the story, one of the characters states:
“’Here we talkin’ bout thirteen dead black men, and nobody knows it happened. How the hell that happen, man? Thirteen black men, men of color murdered, and this killer not be infamous? They ain’t made no TV movie bout this here! The dudes that he killed, it’s like their lives meant nothing.’”
Of Rendered Invisible, one reviewer notes the following:
In many ways, Frank Dobson’s Rendered Invisible: Stories of Black and Whites, Love and Death takes over where Ralph Ellison’s 1952 classic Invisible Man left off. To my mind one of the finest novels of the 20th century, Invisible Man is both an iconic literary work and a valuable teaching tool in courses across the humanities curriculum. I believe this will be true of also of Rendered Invisible: Stories of Blacks and Whites, Love and Death if it gets the exposure that it deserves” (Felicia Campbell, Popular Culture Review, vol. 22, no. 1, winter 2011, pg. 111).
In addition to Ellison’s Invisible Man, this work is also reminiscent of such important works as Toni Cade Bambara’s novel, Those Bones are Not my Child, about the Atlanta child murders and John Edgar Wideman’s novel, Philadelphia Fire, about the Move bombing in Philadelphia, as each of these works centers on a historical event where black lives were lost, due to violence, racism, and neglect.
Rendered Invisible is told in sections, including the title piece and additional stories. Each piece recounts a different, yet thematically-related conflict. The overall theme is racial and generational conflict. The stories deal with issues such as homelessness, fatherlessness, racial injustice, and love. (Three of the stories have been previously published, “Black Messiahs Die,” “Homeless M.F.,” and “Junior Ain’t.”)
Of Rendered Invisible, noted writer John McCluskey (Indiana University) says the following:
“The plot is richly textured, told from two different points of view–Eddie and Johnny–during two different periods. Both have to resolve love relationships as husbands and father-figures. All this, of course, against the backdrops of danger. . . . I’m reminded here of the phrase from Percy Mayfield’s classic: the danger zone is everywhere. . . . All in all, it’s an important story rooted clearly in an earlier moment (1980) but connecting those issues to urgent ones in the present.”