The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings

The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings

by James Baldwin

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The Cross of Redemption is a revelation by an American literary master: a gathering of essays, articles, polemics, reviews, and interviews that have never before appeared in book form.
James Baldwin was one of the most brilliant and provocative literary figures of the past century, renowned for his fierce engagement with issues haunting our

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The Cross of Redemption is a revelation by an American literary master: a gathering of essays, articles, polemics, reviews, and interviews that have never before appeared in book form.
James Baldwin was one of the most brilliant and provocative literary figures of the past century, renowned for his fierce engagement with issues haunting our common history. In The Cross of Redemption we have Baldwin discoursing on, among other subjects, the possibility of an African-American president and what it might mean; the hypocrisy of American religious fundamentalism; the black church in America; the trials and tribulations of black nationalism; anti-Semitism; the blues and boxing; Russian literary masters; and the role of the writer in our society.
Prophetic and bracing, The Cross of Redemption is a welcome and important addition to the works of a cosmopolitan and canonical American writer who still has much to teach us about race, democracy, and personal and national identity. As Michael Ondaatje has remarked, “If van Gogh was our nineteenth-century artist-saint, Baldwin [was] our twentieth-century one.”

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“…anyone interested in engaging in candid albeit stakes-changing debate, anyone who had an investment in equity, humanity, and it’s future…gained tremendously from the variegated prism through which [Baldwin]  viewed and translated the world. . . . These pieces, previously uncollected, not only give us a sense of the physical distances he traveled to ‘bear witness’ but also the intellectual latitude he stretched.” —Los Angeles Times
“Baldwin on race is Baldwin on the white American psyche. . . . The Cross of Redemption becomes an absorbing portrait of Baldwin’s time—and of him.”  —New York Review of Books

“At a time when serious people claim we live in a ‘post-racial’ society, the reappearance of Baldwin’s writing—insistent, accusatory, outraged—feels like a terrible family secret coming to light in an Ibsen play, or Banquo’s ghost showing up to spoil the party. . . . It’s not easy to do what Baldwin did—not even for Baldwin. In fact, this volume unwittingly shows just how brutal the struggle could be.” —Newsweek
“…This book, which includes early fiction sketches that grew into Go Tell It On The Mountain and Giovanni’s Room was vibrant to the last, and his final products were a fitting, natural end to the long trajectory of his joyful misanthropy. . . . Baldwin’s essays are among the best in English since Orwell’s, and are freighted with the same weary skepticism, the same register of encomium and warning.” —Bookslut
The Cross of Redemption amounts to an album of ‘studio tapes’ on which we hear songs we know in ways we’ve never heard before.” —Quarterly Conversation
“The concept of racial identity as a conscious choice had never occurred to me before I encountered it in Baldwin’s work. . . . Baldwin exposes the seamlessness of America’s racial past, present, and future.” —Timothy Ledwith, Open Letters Monthly
“These assorted essays, letters, reviews and profiles act as a reminder of the great power language has when used in the service of a talent like Baldwin’s. . . . Kenan has done us all a great service.” —Austinist
“This momentous collection of essays, book reviews, speeches, letters and journalism—and one short story—is a fierce and felicitous reminder of how towering a literary figure James Baldwin was.”—Outlook Columbus
“There are many gems here: Baldwin’s impassioned essays on music, his talks on anti-Semitism, and article about a boxing match. . . . These days, it can be difficult to find something as lasting as a Baldwin essay—as the kind of writing that gets under the skin and makes it itch.”—The Harvard Crimson 
“Read this book to gain insight into James Baldwin, the World, and more importantly; Yourself!” —WAGTi Radio
“These previously published writings, gleaned for the most part from a variety of periodical sources, have a more powerful resonance when read together in book form. A useful addition for African American scholars.”—Library Journal
“…Offers a searing introduction to readers unfamiliar with his work and a welcome reminder to his fans of his sorcery with the English language. . . . Even at his most acerbic and skeptical, Baldwin clings to the ideas of hope and reconciliation in America.” —The Seattle Times
The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, James Baldwin’s passionate hope for a better America, a United States that he can believe in and that believes in a brilliant black person, comes through in each piece of this disparate collection.” —South Florida Times
“…Brings the lights of day to many excellent pieces excluded from the Library of America’s ‘Collected Essays of James Baldwin’. . . . essential.” —SF Gate
“…While Baldwin was committed to pulling back the curtain on the forces he felt were manipulating America’s problems, he was also very serious about closing the gap between those in power and the disenfranchised. This new collection shows that he was willing to take on black, white, rich, or poor to see that happen.” —Christian Science Monitor
“The opportunity to further bask in Baldwin’s readably precise prose is a welcome gift. . . The Cross of Redemption shows why Baldwin should never be allowed to go out of fashion.” —Austin Chronicle
“Baldwin is biting and insightful in his critique of religious fundamentalism, the prospects of a black president, the hypocrisy of the American art and cultural scene, the challenges of black nationalism, and the complexities of race and identity. In the long passages of his essays and the short, acerbic comments in his interviews, Baldwin shows a masterful sweep of language and ideas and feelings that continues to resonate.”  —Booklist
“Kenan’s introduction and headnotes are models of critical good sense; his awareness of both ‘Baldwin’s achievements that beggar the imagination’ and of the ‘grab bag’ quality of some pieces makes him the perfect shepherd for those ‘lost’ works.”—Publisher’s Weekly 
“What you find here is a book that superbly reopens an unfinished life. In an age that people claim is ‘post-racial,’ the Baldwin’s-eye-view still seems to answer more questions than most other living writers. . . .[an] invaluable book of uncollected writings.”—Buffalo News 
“His writing was diamond: sparkles, flashes and hard. The beginning of the collection, Baldwin states the purpose of his writing was to tell the truth. He succeeds. The Cross of Redemption is a remarkable collection.”—
“Baldwin’s Cross burns with rage, smoothly, like a cocktail mixed perfectly, Manhattan or Molotov.”—studio-walton muyumba

In Praise of James Baldwin
 “Baldwin’s gift to our literary tradition is that rarest of treasures, a rhetoric of fiction and the essay that is, at once, Henry Jamesian and King Jamesian.”
—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
 “Baldwin’s way of seeing, his clarity, precision, and eloquence are unique . . . He manages to be concrete, particular . . . yet also transcendent, arching above the immediacy of an occasion or crisis. He speaks as great black gospel music speaks, through metaphor, parable, rhythm.”
—John Edgar Wideman
 “Moralistic fervor, a high literary seriousness, the authority of the survivor, of the witness—these qualities made Baldwin unique.”
The New York Review of Books
 “The best essayist in this country—a man whose power has always been in his reasoned, biting sarcasm; his insistence on removing layer by layer the hardened skin with which Americans shield themselves from their country.”
The New York Times Book Review
 “He has not himself lost access to the sources of his being—which is what makes him read and awaited by perhaps a wider range of people than any other major American writer.”
The Nation
 “[Baldwin is] among the most penetrating and perceptive of American thinkers.”
The New Republic

Publishers Weekly
Baldwin's published essays have been already twice collected (The Price of the Ticket and the posthumous Library of America Collected Essays), but there are gems in this collection compiled by Kenan (Let the Dead Bury the Dead): "The Fight: Patterson vs. Liston" is as impeccably crafted as a short story; "Blacks and Jews" captures the speaking Baldwin and echoes the call-and-response tradition. The 54 pieces, none previously appearing in book form, range from Baldwin's first published book review in 1947 to a 1984 colloquy with college students. Baldwin's topic can often be subsumed under race, but he most consistently wrestles with questions of moral integrity--in the language ("The Uses of the Blues"), in the artist's work ("Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare"), in the assessment of history ("On Being White... and Other Lies"), and in one's personal life ("To Crush a Serpent"). Kenan's introduction and headnotes are models of critical good sense; his awareness of both "Baldwin's achievements that beggar the imagination," and of the "grab bag" quality of some pieces makes him the perfect shepherd for these "lost" works. (Aug.)
Library Journal
"An omnigatherum" of the ideas Baldwin "revisited most often," this compilation edited by Kenan (English, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; The Fire This Time) is intended to serve as a companion to the Library of America's James Baldwin: Collected Essays. The essays and speeches included range widely over literature, politics, and the arts, covering such diverse topics as "The Artist's Struggle for Integrity," "The Uses of the Blues," and "Blacks and Jews." There are profiles of actor Sidney Poitier and of boxers Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston, followed by a selection of letters, some forewords and afterwords, and reviews. Among these pieces are a foreword to Black Panther leader Bobby Seale's A Lonely Rage (1978) and a letter to Angela Davis in prison, signs perhaps of Baldwin's increasing radicalization. Underlying all of these writings is Baldwin's indictment of America for its hypocritical attitude on race. VERDICT These previously published writings, gleaned for the most part from a variety of periodical sources, have a more powerful resonance when read together in book form. A useful addition for African American scholars.—William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage International Original Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare
Every writer in the English language, I should imagine, has at some point hated Shakespeare, has turned away from that monstrous achieve­ment with a kind of sick envy. In my most anti-English days I condemned him as a chauvinist (“this England” indeed!) and because I felt it so bitterly anomalous that a black man should be forced to deal with the English lan­guage at all—should be forced to assault the English language in order to be able to speak—I condemned him as one of the authors and architects of my oppression.
Again, in the way that some Jews bitterly and mistakenly resent Shylock, I was dubious about Othello (what did he see in Desdemona?) and bitter about Caliban. His great vast gallery of people, whose reality was as con­tradictory as it was unanswerable, unspeakably oppressed me. I was resenting, of course, the assault on my simplicity; and, in another way, I was a victim of that loveless education which causes so many schoolboys to detest Shakespeare. But I feared him, too, feared him because, in his hands, the English language became the mightiest of instruments. No one would ever write that way again. No one would ever be able to match, much less surpass, him.
Well, I was young and missed the point entirely, was unable to go behind the words and, as it were, the diction, to what the poet was saying. I still remember my shock when I finally heard these lines from the murder scene in Julius Caesar. The assassins are washing their hands in Caesar’s blood. Cassius says:
Stoop then, and wash.—How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over,
In states unborn and accents yet unknown!

What I suddenly heard, for the first time, was manifold. It was the voice of lonely, dedicated, deluded Cassius, whose life had never been real for me before—I suddenly seemed to know what this moment meant to him. But beneath and beyond that voice I also heard a note yet more rigorous and impersonal—and contemporary: that “lofty scene,” in all its blood and nec­essary folly, its blind and necessary pain, was thrown into a perspective which has never left my mind. Just so, indeed, is the heedless State over­thrown by men, who, in order to overthrow it, have had to achieve a des­perate single- mindedness. And this single- mindedness, which we think of (why?) as ennobling, also operates, and much more surely, to distort and diminish a man—to distort and diminish us all, even, or perhaps especially, those whose needs and whose energy made the overthrow of the State inevitable, necessary, and just.
And the terrible thing about this play, for me—it is not necessarily my favorite play, whatever that means, but it is the play which I first, so to speak, discovered—is the tension it relentlessly sustains between individual ambition, self- conscious, deluded, idealistic, or corrupt, and the blind, mindless passion which drives the individual no less than it drives the mob. “I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet...I am not Cinna the conspir­ator”—that cry rings in my ears. And the mob’s response: “Tear him for his bad verses!” And yet—though one howled with Cinna and felt his terrible rise, at the hands of his countrymen, to death, it was impossible to hate the mob. Or, worse than impossible, useless; for here we were, at once howl­ing and being torn to pieces, the only receptacles of evil and the only recep­tacles of nobility to be found in all the universe. But the play does not even suggest that we have the perception to know evil from good or that such a distinction can ever be clear: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones . . .”

Once one has begun to suspect this much about the world—once one has begun to suspect, that is, that one is not, and never will be, innocent, for the reason that no one is—some of the self- protective veils between oneself and reality begin to fall away. It is probably of some significance, though we cannot pursue it here, that my first real apprehension of Shake­speare came when I was living in France, and thinking and speaking in French. The necessity of mastering a foreign language forced me into a new relationship to my own. (It was also in France, therefore, that I began to read the Bible again.)
My quarrel with the English language has been that the language reflected none of my experience. But now I began to see the matter in quite another way. If the language was not my own, it might be the fault of the language; but it might also be my fault. Perhaps the language was not my own because I had never attempted to use it, had only learned to imitate it. If this were so, then it might be made to bear the burden of my experience if I could find the stamina to challenge it, and me, to such a test.
In support of this possibility, I had two mighty witnesses: my black ancestors, who evolved the sorrow songs, the blues, and jazz, and created an entirely new idiom in an overwhelmingly hostile place; and Shake­speare, who was the last bawdy writer in the English language. What I began to see—especially since, as I say, I was living and speaking in French—is that it is experience which shapes a language; and it is language which controls an experience. The structure of the French language told me something of the French experience, and also something of the French expectations—which were certainly not the American expectations, since the French daily and hourly said things which the Americans could not say at all. (Not even in French.) Similarly, the language with which I had grown up had certainly not been the King’s English. An immense experience had forged this language; it had been (and remains) one of the tools of a peo­ple’s survival, and it revealed expectations which no white American could easily entertain. The authority of this language was in its candor, its irony, its density, and its beat: this was the authority of the language which pro­duced me, and it was also the authority of Shakespeare.
Again, I was listening very hard to jazz and hoping, one day, to translate it into language, and Shakespeare’s bawdiness became very important to me, since bawdiness was one of the elements of jazz and revealed a tremendous, loving, and realistic respect for the body, and that ineffable force which the body contains, which Americans have mostly lost, which I had experienced only among Negroes, and of which I had then been taught to be ashamed.
My relationship, then, to the language of Shakespeare revealed itself as nothing less than my relationship to myself and my past. Under this light, this revelation, both myself and my past began slowly to open, perhaps the way a flower opens at morning, but more probably the way an atrophied muscle begins to function, or frozen fingers to thaw.
The greatest poet in the English language found his poetry where poetry is found: in the lives of the people. He could have done this only through love—by knowing, which is not the same thing as understanding, that whatever was happening to anyone was happening to him. It is said that his time was easier than ours, but I doubt it—no time can be easy if one is living through it. I think it is simply that he walked his streets and saw them, and tried not to lie about what he saw: his public streets and his private streets, which are always so mysteriously and inexorably con­nected; but he trusted that connection. And, though I, and many of us, have bitterly bewailed (and will again) the lot of an American writer—to be part of a people who have ears to hear and hear not, who have eyes to see and see not—I am sure that Shakespeare did the same. Only, he saw, as I think we must, that the people who produce the poet are not responsible to him: he is responsible to them.
That is why he is called a poet. And his responsibility, which is also his joy and his strength and his life, is to defeat all labels and complicate all bat­tles by insisting on the human riddle, to bear witness, as long as breath is in him, to that mighty, unnameable, transfiguring force which lives in the soul of man, and to aspire to do his work so well that when the breath has left him, the people—all people!—who search in the rubble for a sign or a wit­ness will be able to find him there.

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