Remembering Sam Greenlee Through His Most Famous Book : Code Switch : NPR: When it was published 45 years go, Sam Greenlee's novel The Spook Who Sat By the Door got a lot of media play. The book centered on a conspiracy theory — a popular trope of fiction at the time — not so surprising, as government-sanctioned spies had been surveying black activists for years, thanks to J Edgar Hoover's COINTELPRO program. But in this book, the conspirators were black, and bent on correcting a system they saw as racist and corrupt.
Greenlee died on Monday after a few years of declining health, and as word gets out, appreciations are rolling in — for Greenlee's astute, sometimes acerbic personality, for his love of community (both for his Chicago home town and black America in general), and for writing a book that became a favorite at a turbulent, uncertain time.
Part thriller, part satire and part social commentary, The Spook Who Sat By The Door begins when Gil Hennington, a powerful US Senator, decides the black vote is his answer to winning a tight election. To boost the flagging interest of his black constituents, Herrington needs a race issue. Most of the big ones had been done already, so he decides to point out that the CIA is completely lacking in black agents.