Friday, February 1, 2013

James Baldwin, Anthologies, and African-American Heritage Month

James Baldwin at his desk
I've been a fan of anthologies ever since I purchased an essay collection for a dollar at a church rummage sale. I can't recall the title, but I'll forever associate it with James Baldwin, whose work I first read in that second-hand volume. The author of some of the most important and searching essays on race, Baldwin was also one of the great stylists of the 20th century. His sentences are, quite simply, among the most beautiful ever written.

Here's the opening to The Fire Next Time, written in the form of a letter to his nephew, James:

"I have begun this letter five times and torn it up five times. I keep seeing your face, which is also the face of your father and my brother. Like him, you are tough, dark, vulnerable, moody--with a very definite tendency to sound truculent because you want no one to think you are soft."

Baldwin's essays have appeared in a number of anthologies over the years, including The Best American Essays of the Century and The Norton Book of Personal Essays. Anthologies are a great way to explore unfamiliar writers and genres. The library owns anthologies of poetry, essays, stories and more, including many anthologies dedicated to the work of African-American writers. Below are just a few of them:

The Norton Anthology of African-American Literature
The Best African American Essays, 2010
Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate: Looking at the Harlem Renaissance through Poems
Black Noir: Mystery, Crime, and Suspense Stories by African-American Writers
Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor

To see additional African-American literature anthologies, click here.

Which African-American writers have expanded your world, inspired you with their sentences, or, since this is African American History Month, enhanced your understanding of our nation's history?


Anonymous said...

"I keep seeing your face which is also the face of your father and my brother." A poignant, powerful story must follow, right?

I'll search out the essay and find out the answer. Thanks for the suggestions.

Laura A. said...

Thanks for your comment. Yes, a poignant and powerful story follows, which combines Baldwin's and his family's experiences with the story of our country's injustices.

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