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James Baldwin  1924 ~ 1987

“[Baldwin] uses words as the sea uses waves, to flow and beat, advance and retreat, rise and take a bow in disappearing…The thought becomes poetry and the poetry illuminates the thought.”
~ Langston Hughes

Anita’s Note: Once again I am on an intense revising schedule. When I’m not writing—or performing some nettlesome business of life—I read—having learned from novelist AJ Verdelle how to read like a writer—pen in hand, a hunter wielding a spear, looking for fresh meat. There is one place I have come to count on for a high yield: anything Baldwin. Right now I’m reading his 1962 novel, Another Country, set in Greenwich Village, Harlem and France, portraying many taboo themes.

Earlier this week I stumble off to bed around 2:AM leaving the book open on my desk at Book One/Chapter 3/page127. A few hours later, rested, watered and fed, I come back to work and something draws me to that open page. Midway down I find the gem below; Baldwin brilliantly tucked a passage on craft  into the interior monologue of his character, Vivaldo. Oh happy day! straight from the master’s acerbic mind to any soul lucky enough to be reading.

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It is a Saturday in early March and Vivaldo stands at his window watching “the morning rise”. The narrative summary reflects his mood and I’ve speared the strokes that paint this mood: wind blowing with a dispirited moan/writing not going well/feeling weary/and finally the reason for this paralysis:

“He did not seem to know enough about the people in his novel. They did not seem to trust him. They were all named, more or less, all more or less destined, the pattern he wished them to describe was clear to him. But it did not seem clear to them. He could move them about but they themselves did not move. He put words in their mouths which they uttered sullenly, unconvinced. With the same agony, or greater, with which he attempted to seduce a woman, he was trying to seduce his people: he begged them to surrender up to him their privacy. And they refused — without, for all their ugly intransigence, showing the faintest desire to leave him. They were waiting for him to find the key, press the nerve, tell the truth. Then, they seemed to be complaining, they would give him all he wished for and much more than he was now willing to imagine.”

 

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Stay tuned for my post on the new Baldwin documentary: I Am Not Your Negro. Needless to say, this is a must see.

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