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Reading Baldwin

 

I remember well my encounter with American writer James Baldwin’s novels. A youngster, still in my early teens, reading Another Country, Go Tell It on the Mountain, and Giovanni’s Room represent watershed moments. I can’t remember which one I read first, but I remember holding the next book in my hands and opening the pages with excited anticipation: I felt as if holding a treasure in my hands. I was longing for new doors to be opened, knowing they would be.

Along with his collections of essays, Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time, his two plays, The Amen Corner and Blues for Mister Charlie, as well as his collaboration with anthropoligist Margaret Mead, A Rap on Race, reading Baldwin changed me and, I dare say, into a better person. Baldwin’s writing broadened my horizon – they gave me a bigger picture of the state of the world and our multifaceted human condition.

Today a quote of James Baldwin’s came back to me, a quote I’ve been pondering since it suddenly popped into my mind this afternoon:

“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.” 

Notes of a Native Son (1955)

It struck me ‘America’ could be exchanged with ‘Norway,’ or ‘my country’. Or ‘poltics’, or ‘my culture’. Or ‘my religion’ for that matter – yes, anything of essential importance to us kindling that passionate fire of being an inseparable part of me, of life itself.

I’d like to live in a free world, a world governed by mature leaders supporting life, leaders who are genuinely concerned with the welfare of all of us. Whenever that’s not the case, we have to speak up. That’s what reading Baldwin taught me.

The portrait illustrating this post is of James Arthur Baldwin, born, August 2, 1924. Baldwin was an African-American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic. He died in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, on December 1, 1987, and was buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, near New York City 

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