#WCW, I’ve got a crush on James Baldwin!


James Baldwin, LA Times

Ferguson, #blacklivesmatter, & James Baldwin

“Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated, and this was an immutable law.”

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I selected James Baldwin for my February #wcw, but I didn’t JUST choose him because I have a crush on him, I chose him because some of his work is very poignant and pertinent in light of the recent events with Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, etc.  He has had a lot to say about how black men are perceived and the potential danger of a limited perception.  The best place to look for pieces that relate to this is in Notes of a Native Son or The Fire Next Time. You could engage this discussion with some of Baldwin’s quotes, too.  Here’s “5 James Baldwin Quotes that Foreshadowed Ferguson” from advocate.com.

“Sonny’s Blues”

“For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”

One of my favorite things to teach is his short story, “Sonny’s Blues.”  I think you could easily connect this to texts about the young men listed above, but it’s also a great resource for teaching motif or music-as-narrative.  In the past, I’ve used it to introduce big ideas in Fences, but it’s a short story that is so rich and meaningful, that I’m confident we could connect to it to just about anything.  So if you’re teaching something about fathers and sons, brothers, family, music, freedom etc., “Sonny’s Blues” could be a nice text for you to include.  If you’d like a copy (it’s a long short story), I have a PDF version saved that I can easily share with you.

James on Lorraine 

“When so bright a light goes out so early, when so gifted an artist goes so soon, we are left with a sorrow andwonder which speculation cannot assuage. One’s filled for a long time with a sense of injustice as futile as it ispowerful. And the vanished person fills the mind, in this or that attitude, doing this or that.”

Teaching Raisin in the Sun this year?  James Baldwin wrote an essay about Lorraine Hansberry called “Sweet Lorraine,” and it’s a moving and insightful companion piece.

James and Lorraine

James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry

Jimmy’s Blues: Poetry by Baldwin

Recently, some of James Baldwin’s poetry was poetry in Jimmy’s Blues, there are a few excerpts here, if you’d like to teach or incorporate something shorter.  Here’s a sample:


No, I don’t feel death coming.

I feel death going:
having thrown up his hands,
for the moment.

I feel like I know him
better than I did.
Those arms held me,
for a while,
and, when we meet again,
there will be that secret knowledge
between us.

Words of Note

AND . . . if you want a quicker, easier way to get James Baldwin in your classroom, here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

“Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”

“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

“You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

“It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”

And check out the rest on goodreads!

I’ve got a crush . . . 

Why do I love James Baldwin?  I love what he stood for.  I believe that he wasn’t afraid to speak up and speak his mind in the face of injustice.  He was a leading voice during the Civil Rights movement and did not silence his voice until he died in 1987.  But I think that I mostly love that James Baldwin believed that love (really knowing, seeing, and listening to one another) could fix a lot of what was/is broken in America, and he balanced that with a healthy dose of cynicism (at times) and realism.


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