Let the Dead Bury Their Dead Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1992

Type of work: Short fiction

Type of plot: Occult

Time of work: Primarily the twentieth century

Locale: Tims Creek, North Carolina

Characters DiscussedClarence Pickett

Clarence Let the Dead Bury Their DeadPickett, a young boy in “Clarence and the Dead.” At the age of three, he begins to pass on advice from dead residents of the town to living ones, usually concerning people and details the young boy could have no way of knowing.

John Edgar Stokes

John Edgar Stokes, an old black man from the story “Things of This World.” He has a showdown with some local white bigots shortly before his death.

Henrietta Williams

Henrietta Williams, an older black woman in “The Foundations of the Earth.” After her grandson’s death, she invites her grandson’s male lover to stay with her for a few days.

Aaron Streeter

Aaron Streeter, a spoiled and self-conscious man in the story “Cornsilk.” He dwells on and fantasizes over a brief incestuous relationship that he had with his half sister, Jamonica, years earlier.

Mabel Pearsall

Mabel Pearsall, a spiritually and physically tired schoolteacher who, in the story “The Strange and Tragic Ballad of Mabel Pearsall,” becomes obsessed with the idea that a young child she sometimes babysits is her husband’s illegitimate offspring.

Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington, a fictionalized version of the influential black educator. In the story “This Far,” he visits Tims Creek in 1915, shortly before his death, trying to find connections to some old friends.

Dean Williams

Dean Williams, a white homosexual man hired to seduce and help blackmail a wealthy black man in the story “Run, Mourner, Run.”

Lena Walker

Lena Walker, a recently widowed middle-aged black woman in the story “What Are Days?” She has a brief, passionate affair with a teenage boy who later seems to disappear.

The Reverend Barden

The Reverend Barden, a minister in “Ragnorak! The Day the Gods Die.” He delivers a eulogy for a young woman with whom he had a sexual affair.

Ida Perry

Ida Perry, the widow of the deceased judge “Butch” Perry. She begins to be haunted by the spirit of a young black male whom her husband beat to death many years earlier.

Reginald Kain

Reginald Kain, the imaginary editor of the title story, a fictional oral history of a slave revolt.


Pharaoh, also known as Menes. In the title story, he leads a possibly apocryphal slave revolt that results in the founding of a settlement that eventually became Tims Creek.

BibliographyJohnson, Charles. Being and Race: Black Writing Since 1970. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. A major statement on black writing by a writer whose influence on Kenan is noticeable. Of particular importance to a reader of Kenan are Johnson’s comments on Jean Toomer and Henry Dumas.Miner, Valerie. “Carolina Dreamin’.” The Nation 255 (July 6, 1992): 28-29. A review by a female novelist of Let the Dead Bury Their Dead. Focuses largely on Kenan’s treatment of women and finds much to praise.Morrison, Toni. “Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation.” In Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1983.Morrison, Toni. “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature.” Michigan Quarterly Review 28 (Winter, 1989): 1-34. Though not about Randall Kenan, these two articles by Toni Morrison do give a good overview of recurring themes and values in African American literature. The importance of the community and of ancestor figures in African American literature are particularly relevant to Randall Kenan.Mosher, Howard Frank. “The Ghosts on Main Street.” The New York Times Book Review 97 (June 14, 1992): 12-13. An early but quite enlightening and very favorable review of Let the Dead Bury Their Dead.
Categories: Characters