Image Description: James Baldwin addresses the crowd after participating in the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in support of voting rights in March 1965. (Photo by Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images)
The Racial Justice Advocates of the First Parish in Lincoln are happy to announce FPL’s summer reading choices that, together, comprise our “James Baldwin Summer.” Our two books for the summer are (1) a powerful essay by Baldwin, The Fire Next Time and (2) Baldwin’s first novel, often thought to be his finest, Go Tell it on the Mountain.
James Baldwin, a brilliant writer and social thinker, helps to form a basis for our understanding of racial issues. We have chosen two books by Baldwin for us to read together, and, of course, feel free to read other James Baldwin books. It will all lead to our greater understanding.
And if you want to read a scholarly book about James Baldwin, read Princeton Professor and scholar, Eddie Glaude’s book, Begin Again.
Stay tuned for announcements of when we will meet to discuss the books and to see a James Baldwin-based film, I Am Not Your Negro.
Descriptions of these books:
The Fire Next Time, published 1963, 128 pages
Ta-Nehisi Coates (whose book, Between the World and Me, we read last fall) calls The Fire Next Time, “Basically the finest essay I’ve ever read. Baldwin refused to hold anyone’s hand. He was both direct and beautiful all at once. He did not seem to write to convince you. He wrote beyond you.”
At once a “powerful evocation” of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism. Described by The New York Times Book Review as “sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle…all presented in searing, brilliant prose, The Fire Next Time stands as a classic of literature.
Go Tell It on the Mountain, published 1953, 272 pages
Baldwin’s first novel, semiautobiographical in nature, is considered his finest. Based on the author’s experiences as a teenaged preacher in a small revivalist church, the novel describes two days and a long night in the life of the Grimes family, especially about 14-year-old John and his stepfather, Gabriel. It is a classic of contemporary African American literature. The New York Times review reported that “With vivid imagery, with lavish attention to details, Mr. Baldwin has told his feverish story.”
Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for our Own, by Eddie Glaude, published 2020, 272 pages
Of Baldwin, Glaude writes, “Baldwin’s writing does not bear witness to the glory of America. It ….. [shows us]… the illusion of innocence that blinds us to the reality of others. Baldwin’s vision requires a confrontation with our history (with slavery, Jim Crow segregation, with whiteness) to overcome its hold on us. Not to posit the greatness of America, but to establish the ground upon which to imagine the country anew.” The New York Times wrote, “Even if you don’t agree with Glaude’s interpretations, you’ll find yourself productively arguing with them. He parses, he pronounces, he cajoles. He spurs you to revisit Baldwin’s work yourself.”
Please join us in these readings. We look forward to hearing your thoughts about them in the Fall.
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