I read this collection of James Baldwin essays while visiting the in-laws in Thailand (where do you go when you visit your in-laws? Ohio? Missouri? South Dakota? I go to Thailand, so suck on that). I’m sure that I wrote down some notes somewhere, but heck if I know where I put them.
But I decided to write a bit about it anyway because Baldwin is having a bit of a moment. This past weekend we celebrated what would have been his ninety-first birthday. And Ta-Nehisi Coates new book is earning him some very flattering comparisons to Baldwin (I haven’t read his book, Between the World and Me, but I love his essays in The Atlantic).
First of all, there’s Baldwin’s Protest Novel essay. It’s sort of the elephant in the room isn’t it? But I’m going to defend Wright against him, because I don’t think Baldwin gives Bigger Thomas enough credit for being a three dimensional character; he’s not a character able to express himself very well or even understand himself, but he’s not the cardboard cutout that Baldwin suggests. But, of course, does Baldwin really believe that or was it a deliberately Oedipal move against the older writer?
Beyond that, his writing about his father was heartbreaking and tender, a masterpiece of what it means to love a difficult man, an abusive man.
Finally, a reminder of my own privilege to be white and heterosexual and have the wonderful luxury of not having to think about race if I don’t want to.