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Happy 90th Birthday James Baldwin!

It’s Me!



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Have you ever wondered what an unapologetic life looks like? One needs to look no further than to the poetic, critical, and requited life of Mr. James Baldwin, affectionately known by his loved ones as “Jimmy”.

He is  a world treasure!

James Baldwin Photo from biography.com

James Baldwin
Photo from biography.com

Had Mr. Baldwin not succumb to the esophageal cancer that conquered his physical body on December 1st, 1987, he would be sitting with us wearing his bright, bold, uncommon, gap-toothed smile, perhaps holding a cigarette and sharing some insightful words of wisdom amongst friends.  His words would probably be a critique on the ways in which our nation has progressed racially, or not. Never one to tire of an economic, social and political commentary on the ways of the American and international world, I imagine that Mr. Baldwin’s billowing words would eventually recess and retreat into his mind to be picked up later, as he analyzes whatever nature landscape has appeared in his midst.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. 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.” ~James Baldwin

I only wish that as a high school and college student I had been more exposed to this literary force of more than 25 works and this phenomenal American man. Equally, I only wish that my birth would have intersected the times sooner so that I would have had the chance to meet him, speak with him or simply catch a glimpse of this beautiful man through the lens of a disposable camera.

BaldwinRecently, during my time at Yale, I was researching in the Beinecke Library, Yale’s repository of rare books and manuscripts, to sift through James Baldwin’s papers like an archaeologist on an archaeological dig.  What I found was a man, a thinker, an archivist, and man who doodled!  On his time-stained, brown-paged manuscripts he doodled pictures of women, perhaps taking a break from the complexities of his mind by trying his left hand at an understated hobby–drawing. and, also on these pages, he recorded his life and structured conversations for us to continue having with the hopes of transforming America into a better nation of laws, people and mores.

 “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.” James Baldwin

Just writing about him makes me share my own bright, gap-toothed smile as I think about the way he has impacted my thinking and opened my being to what it means to live an unapologetic life.  James Baldwin was an immaculate writer and superb wordsmith, but what I will always admire the most about him is the way truth escaped through his full lips and into bitter and sweet air, never to be lost in time because he recorded this truth on the pages of his books, it was woven into the couches of talks shows and captured on the reels of tape.

“Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.” James Baldwin

Happy 90th Birthday Mr. Baldwin!

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