1955-1965

By Hilton, Als | The New Yorker, February 23, 2015 | Go to article overview

1955-1965


Hilton, Als, The New Yorker


1955-1965

James Baldwin in Saint- Paul-de-Vence, France.

When The New Yorker published James Baldwin's "Letter from a Region in My Mind," in 1962, the magazine had yet to hire Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Jervis Anderson, its first black reporters, and its cartoons detailed almost exclusively the lives of its presumed readers--white liberals. But, with Baldwin's brilliant meditation on the ways in which politics are always personal, The New Yorker , then under the editorship of William Shawn, was no longer just reporting on the times but reflecting them. Baldwin's essay (which he later retitled "Down at the Cross," and included in his book "The Fire Next Time") deals, in part, with how the faithless become so, and how European ideals of religion and beauty crippled, and then made fierce, the blacks who ultimately tore down those specious models.

Brought up by an adoptive preacher father who embraced Jesus but could not love his son, Baldwin fought for his father's attention by becoming a preacher, too, an authoritative role that he used, in the end, to distance himself from the terrifying complications of his own blackness in a country that wanted nothing to do with it. …

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