They say that every generation gets the artist it needs. Currently, we seem to be realizing that we already have the artist we need and we should have paid more attention to him the first time – James Baldwin. Like Ra Washington, Jesmyn Ward and her new generation pay tribute to Baldwin’s stunning collection, The Fire Next Time.
Pretty much all of these essays take their own angle into the prompt they received from Ward. I admired Wendy S. Walters’ “Lonely in America,” for its thought-provoking research into the way we treat our dead. Honoree Fanonne Jeffers’ piece on Phillis Wheatley’s husband reminds us to be wary of who tells whose stories. The form and content of Kevin Young’s “Blacker Than Thou” is amazing. Kiese Laymon’s “Da Art of Storytellin’ (a Prequel)” sent me to listen to OutKast. “Black and Blue” by Garnette Cadogan and “Know Your Rights!” by Emily Raboteau work well together since their focus is on walking. Claudia Rankine’s “The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning” is the star of the show, with its careful consideration of the treatment of black bodies.
I will definitely use a few of these in class. An important, timely and well-written book. And a good reminder to (re)read Baldwin.