Back in Georgia I locked my office door and sorted the letters by decade. Many were undated. Some had a month and date but no year; some had a year and a day, but no date or month. Some referred to private or historical events—a birthday, a protest march, a performance. In order to cross-reference, I read and reread the major studies.
James: Memories of my Brother
His voice on the page can produce a uniquely electrical sense of connection with his reader. Some love it; others recoil from it. Or maybe it was the secrecy, the privacy. A few letters concluded with the thought that it might be best if the pages were promptly burned.
Most of these letters were about nascent successes and money troubles. In November , he wrote David from London, broke. Baldwin was thirty-one. David was almost twenty-four. He offered David a way to back off from their intensifying relationship, and, by implication, from the impending controversy over a novel that featured erotic relationships between men. He returned to the United States in the summer of and toured the South. On October 11, he wrote David from Tuskegee in a panic, unable to sleep.
He described white hatred steaming out of the pavement. Then, thinking of a mass meeting led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Wondering if that impression was too extreme, he affirmed that it would be impossible to overstate the pain and peril he was witnessing. Closing the letter, he said that the dishwasher at the A.
Both to his brother and to his close friend in D. And, somehow, he postponed his breakdown until he arrived back in New York City. By he was stymied again in his progress on Another Country. I typed his letter from Stockholm on October 3, , explaining the novel had come back into focus while he interviewed Ingmar Bergman at his studios outside the city.
He was looking for a way, an artistic method, to join who he was to an emerging politics in the American South and in the anti-colonial movements around the world. There had been over thirty curtain calls. In responses written that summer, Baldwin explained to his youngest brother what he considered the hopeless and self-destructive limitations of the new politics as it emerged.
- The Bowhunting Life!
- Thomaston (Images of America).
- The Forgiving?
Despite his reservations—or, really, because of them—he would engage the younger activists personally and politically over the coming years. I paused on a letter from March 10, King was still alive. In the letter, addressed to David and his sister Paula, both living in London at the time, Baldwin listed titles of Aretha Franklin songs as they played on the record player. It was 3 a. From the titles and their order, I realized he was playing Side 2 of Aretha Arrives I played the album myself.
What she sang was artistic and private, but also revolutionary and public. This was coherence. He wanted to learn to write like that, he told David and Paula. Amid flashes of fear, promise, murder and despair, I moved through the tangle of accumulating commitments, F. Eldridge Cleaver, Amiri Baraka, and other nationalist figures derided Baldwin publicly but privately appealed to him for support, which he often gave. If what people were was being rounded up for slaughter, jailed and imprisoned in unprecedented fashion, he thought, the somewhat more subtle question of who they were would be killed, too.
It was a tactical and temporary re-orientation of priorities. Then, another abrupt turn: his departure in July from Hollywood. Choose your country's store to see books available for purchase. For as long as he could remember, Frank Hart always looked up to his older brother. Their father, killed in a drunken gun duel and their erratic mother having long-since abandoned them, they had nothing but each other to rely on growing up in the dusty town of Union Springs, Alabama.
These are tales of rising adventure. These are tales of two discarded boys as they find their way out of their sometimes-sinister hometown in the Deep South, and surface thousands of miles away in the stunning city of New York as two well-educated young men in the midst of the Great Depression. But what exactly happens when they finally have a chance to rise up above their humble beginnings and take the world by storm?
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