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Sam Greenlee obituary

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US writer and poet best known for his controversial novel and film The Spook Who Sat By the Door

The legacy of the writer Sam Greenlee, who has died aged 83, is in the cultural and philosophical impact of his debut novel The Spook Who Sat By the Door (1969), which spawned a film of the same title, often tagged "a blueprint for revolution". It tells the story of Dan Freeman, an African-American man hired by the CIA, who uses the expertise he gains to train Chicago gang members into an army of freedom fighters. "Spooks" in street slang refers both to black people and to spies; Sam was an expert navigator in a world of double entendres and masks. He states simply in his poem Felony: "A free / black mind / is a concealed / weapon!"

It was because of The Spook Who Sat By the Door that I met Sam in 1968, in the early days of the publishing house I co-founded, Allison & Busby. While living on the Greek island of Mykonos, he had met Alexis Lykiard, an undergraduate poet friend of my musician husband, and shown him the manuscript of the book, much rejected by mainstream publishers on both sides of the Atlantic. Alexis (himself a future A&B author) directed Sam to us in London.

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