The Black Critic as Prisoner and Artist
Here, then, is the untimely, timely end;--Life's last chapter well stitched into the middle! Nor book, nor author of the book, hath any sequel though each hath its last lettering!-- It is ambiguous still.
Herman Melville, Pierre, or The Ambiguities
France was a place where they were starving me To death, because a black man had a brain.
Edwin Arlington Robinson, "Toussaint L'Ouverture"
My first lessons in the Socratic method as it was employed by C. L. R. James came in the first minutes of a history course at what was then Federal City College in Washington, D.C. Waving his open hand at the class in what I later recognized as a characteristic gesture, James asked, "Where did William Faulkner come from?" As the new kid in class I waited to see where a history professor was going with a question about the origins of American novelists. " Mississippi . . . ?" ventured a young woman to my right in the tentative voice of the American undergraduate who lives in perpetual fear of "getting it wrong." "And where did Richard Wright come from?" James asked, with more assertive hand waving. There was a very long pause, which, as the lone literature major, I felt compelled to fill. " Mississippi," I answered. James looked gleefully my way and practically shouted out his follow-up question: "And where did George Jackson come from?" I fell into the trap. " Mississippi . . . ?" I ventured as tentatively as had the young woman to my right. Pointing his very long and seemingly inescapable index finger directly at me, James thundered: "No! He came from jail!"
I learned a great deal that day, about rhetoric, about my own ego, about C. L. R. James, and, most important for me at that time, about American