The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings

Overview

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, ...

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Overview

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 Barnes & Noble
James Baldwin (1924-1987) ranks as one of the original, decisive, and readable public intellectuals of the second half of the twentieth century. Even after half a century, his essay collections Notes of a Native Son, Nobody Knows My Name, and The Fire Next Time remain vibrant expressions of his personality. This posthumous collection of uncollected writings reminds again of the verve and range of his interests. These essays cover topics ranging from the possibility of an African American president; the hypocrisy of American religious fundamentalism; boxing; jazz; Russian literature; Black Nationalism; anti-Semitism and the role of the world in modern society. Editor's recommendation.
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.)
From the Publisher
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
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
The Barnes & Noble Review

It is probably well worth collecting anything that James Baldwin wrote. Among the most naturally eloquent of all twentieth-century American writers, Baldwin published six essay collections and six novels over thirty-three years, and it would be an invigorating literary exercise to try to find the first languid sentence or inert idea in any of that output. And although, as with any writer, his reputation largely rests on a handful of particular works -- mostly his magnificent essays on U.S. race relations and the lived experiences of American black men -- one finds the same intensity, the same incandescence, and the same elegance in any and all of his essays.

The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings brings forward fifty-five essays that few people outside of Baldwin scholars have read; it is, therefore, something we can be eagerly thankful for, and great credit is due the editor Randall Kenan (a successful novelist in his own right). Described as a "companion volume" to the Library of America edition of Baldwin's Collected Essays, Kenan's selections are in fact more than just complementary. What we have here are not b-sides to the top 40 hits of Baldwin's career, but rather the author's rehearsals of his more famous essays. And rehearsals can be just as entertaining and informing -- if not moreso -- than full dress performances.

Often published in smaller venues or addressed to more specialized audiences than his celebrated works, the essays, book reviews, transcribed speeches, and interviews Kenan has gathered reveal a side of Baldwin that is difficult to access through his more famous novels and essays. The author appears here as both tradesman and toiler, undertaking the grunt work necessary to make and keep a name for himself: forewords to friends' first novels, desultory book reviews, speaking engagements that provided an opportunity to network and to reinforce written ideas with the whirlwind power of his oratory. It would be inaccurate to call anything Baldwin wrote unpolished, but this collection presents a looser writer than his readers are accustomed to -- one more willing to make his point with something less than optimal rigor and grace, or to practice making that point in progressively better formulations.

One encounters, then, a large amount of repetition, especially if one does in fact read The Cross of Redemption alongside the Collected Essays. Yet this creates an illuminating situation. For among Baldwin's many other virtues as an essayist is his very rare brand of contrarianism, a type which consistently surprises you not by the counter-intuitiveness of the stance he ultimately takes on an issue, but by the mental configurations he employs to get there, turning over on himself constantly like a Möbius strip of argumentation. In The Cross of Redemption, this effect is diluted by the reiterations we observe, allowing us to see some of the simpler building blocks of Baldwin's most complex strategies, as the writer's intricate trains of thought begin to dissociate into their individual elements.

This looseness, however, does not in the least diminish the power of many of the essays included, although a few are a little weak on their own and might have been helped along by a more active editorial hand. The explanatory notes about the essays' provenance and references vary widely in detail and helpfulness. A very ample note precedes the first essay on Lorraine Hansberry, for instance, but no context whatsoever is given for an essay a few pages later on the actress Geraldine Page, who is arguably less well known today. It is not a grave fault, however, as a little studious digital browsing can resolve many questions. On the other hand, in most cases no amount of Googling can retrieve the essays themselves -- and there is no question many belong in print again.

It is difficult to say why neither Baldwin nor Toni Morrison, who edited the Library of America volume, saw fit to include in it or in Baldwin's original essay collections something as beautifully written as his essay on the first boxing match between Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson from 1963, or the fierce and equally beautiful open letter Baldwin wrote to Angela Davis in 1971 in the New York Review of Books. These are wonderful recoveries even apart from their unique place in the author's career, as is the sequence of letters Baldwin wrote to his agent, also in 1963, when he was traveling in Europe and Israel, preparing for his first trip to Africa. Titled simply "Letters from a Journey," these missives were published in Harper's Magazine perhaps as a sort of promotional item for Baldwin's Another Country and The Fire Next Time. As is true for this collection as a whole, whatever the reasons for its existence, we are very lucky to have it.

--Andrew Seal

Andrew Seal is a graduate student in American Studies at Yale University. His work has appeared at The Quarterly Conversation, The Critical Flame, and n+1. He also maintains the lit-blog Blographia Literaria (www.blographia-literaria.com).

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307378828
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/24/2010
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

James Baldwin

James Baldwin was born in 1924 and died in 1987. Among his more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction are Giovanni’s Room, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Notes of a Native Son, and The Fire Next Time.
 
Randall Kenan is the author of, among other books, the novel A Visitation of Spirits and the short story collection Let the Dead Bury Their Dead. He teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Biography

James Baldwin was born on August 2, 1924, and educated in New York. His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, appeared in 1953 to excellent reviews and immediately was recognized as establishing a profound and permanent new voice in American letters. "Mountain is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else," he remarked. Baldwin's play The Amen Corner was first performed at Howard University in 1955 (it was staged commercially in the 1960s), and his acclaimed collection of essays Notes of a Native Son, was published the same year. A second collection of essays, Nobody Knows My Name, was published in 1961 between his novels Giovanni's Room (1956) and Another Country (1961).

The appearance of The Fire Next Time in 1963, just as the civil rights movement was exploding across the American South, galvanized the nation and continues to reverberate as perhaps the most prophetic and defining statement ever written of the continuing costs of Americans' refusal to face their own history. It became a national bestseller, and Baldwin was featured on the cover of Time magazine. Critic Irving Howe said that The Fire Next Time achieved "heights of passionate exhortation unmatched in modern American writing." In 1964 Blues for Mister Charlie, his play based on the murder of a young black man in Mississippi, was produced by the Actors Studio in New York. That same year, Baldwin was made a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and collaborated with the photographer Richard Avedon on Nothing Personal, a series of portraits of America intended as a eulogy for the slain Medger Evers. A collection of short stories, Going to Meet the Man, was published in 1965, and in 1968, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, his last novel of the 1960s appeared.

In the 1970s he wrote two more collections of essays and cultural criticism: No Name in the Street (1972) and The Devil Finds Work (1976). He produced two novels: the bestselling If Beale Street Could Talk (1974) and Just Above My Head (1979) and also a children's book Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood (1976). He collaborated with Margaret Mead on A Rap on Race (1971) and with the poet-activist Nikki Giovanni on A Dialogue (1973). He also adapted Alex Haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X into One Day When I Was Lost.

In the remaining years of his life, Baldwin produced a volume of poetry, Jimmy's Blues (1983), and a final collection of essays, The Price of the Ticket. Baldwin's last work, The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985), was prompted by a series of child murders in Atlanta. Baldwin was made a Commander of the French Legion of Honor in June 1986. Among the other awards he received are a Eugene F. Saxon Memorial Trust Award, a Rosenwald fellowship, a Guggenheim fellowship, a Partisan Review fellowship, and a Ford Foundation grant.

James Baldwin died at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence in France on December 1, 1987.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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    1. Also Known As:
      James Arthur Baldwin (full name)
      James Baldwin
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 2, 1924
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      December 1, 1987
    2. Place of Death:
      St. Paul de Vence, France

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.
 
(1964)

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Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION
 
Looking for James Baldwin
 
ESSAYS AND SPEECHES
 
Mass Culture and the Creative Artist: Some Personal Notes
A Word from Writer Directly to Reader
From Nationalism, Colonialism, and the United States: One Minute
     to Twelve—A Forum
Theater: The Negro In and Out
Is A Raisin in the Sun a Lemon in the Dark? 
As Much Truth as One Can Bear 
Geraldine Page: Bird of Light 
From What’s the Reason Why?: A Symposium by Best-Selling
     Authors: James Baldwin on Another Country 
The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity 
We Can Change the Country 
Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare 
The Uses of the Blues 
What Price Freedom? 
The White Problem 
Black Power 
The Price May Be Too High  
The Nigger We Invent  
Speech from the Soledad Rally  
A Challenge to Bicentennial Candidates  
The News from All the Northern Cities Is, to Understate It, Grim;
     the State of the Union Is Catastrophic  
Lorraine Hansberry at the Summit  
On Language, Race, and the Black Writer  
Of the Sorrow Songs: The Cross of Redemption  
Black English: A Dishonest Argument  
This Far and No Further  
On Being White . . . and Other Lies  
Blacks and Jews  
To Crush a Serpent  
 
PROFILES
 
The Fight: Patterson vs. Liston  
Sidney Poitier  

LETTERS
 
Letters from a Journey  
The International War Crimes Tribunal  
Anti-Semitism and Black Power  
An Open Letter to My Sister Angela Y. Davis  
A Letter to Prisoners  
The Fire This Time: Letter to the Bishop  
 
FOREWORDS AND AFTERWORDS
 
A Quarter-Century of Un-Americana  
Memoirs of a Bastard Angel: A Fifty-Year Literary and Erotic Odyssey
     by Harold Norse  
The Negro in New York: An Informal Social History, 1626–1940, edited by Roi
     Ottley and William J. Weatherby  
Daddy Was a Number Runner by Louise Meriwether  
A Lonely Rage by Bobby Seale  
 
BOOK REVIEWS
 
Best Short Stories by Maxim Gorky  
Mother by Maxim Gorky 
The Amboy Dukes by Irving Shulman  
The Sure Hand of God by Erskine Caldwell  
The Sling and the Arrow by Stuart Engstrand 
Novels and Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson, edited by V. S. Pritchett;
     and Robert Louis Stevenson by David Daiches  
Flood Crest by Hodding Carter 
The Moth by James M. Cain  
The Portable Russian Reader, edited by Bernard Guilbert Guerney  
The Person and the Common Good by Jacques Maritain 
The Negro Newspaper by Vishnu V. Oak; Jim Crow America by Earl
     Conrad; The High Cost of Prejudice by Bucklin Moon; The Protestant
     Church and the Negro by Frank S. Loescher; Color and Conscience by
     Buell G. Gallagher; From Slavery to Freedom by John Hope Franklin;
     and The Negro in America by Arnold Rose  
The Cool World by Warren Miller  
Essays by Seymour Krim  
The Arrangement by Elia Kazan  
A Man’s Life: An Autobiography by Roger Wilkins  
 
FICTION
 
The Death of a Prophet  
 
SOURCES

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