©2012 Mark B. Anstendig
Growing up, I read his book of two longer pieces on race in America, The Fire Next Time, and then the novel Another Country. I was seized by his intelligence, integrity, and passion. The essays sizzled and sparked with the energy of prophetic rage; the novel was unlike anything I’d ever read. I went on to appreciate other essays and other novels – Another Country remains my favorite of the latter.
He will pop into my head when I find myself contemplating the display of moral courage in tumultuous times. No one in the ’60s was more eloquent on the subject of racialism in the US, yet his open bisexuality also exposed him to attack by black political allies – the Panthers of course being famously as unsupportive of alternative masculinities as of feminism.
Searching for photos of him to add to this post I came across an interesting interview with the photographer Sedat Pakay who was a close friend of Baldwin’s in the ’60s. Pakay had met him in Turkey just out of high school (Baldwin spent a lot of time abroad, especially in Istanbul and France). There are a few of Pakay’s photos of Baldwin in Turkey there, and a lot more here.
Having begun publishing in the mid-’50s, by the mid-’60s Baldwin had become a famous public literary and activist figure, in constant demand as speaker and debater – one of the reasons for his frequent sojourns in Europe was simply to enable him to write sustainedly. It’s still startling to realize that Another Country, with its panoply of biracial and bisexual relationships, was published in 1962.
Today his reputation remains strong and there are continual appreciations of him, for example a lovely recent one in the New York Review of Books by Darryl Pinckney (whose partner is the English poet James Fenton, great friend of the late Christopher Hitchens). At the same time he seems rather less well-known today than ten or fifteen years ago – hence this modest mini-appreciation of my own.
These three photos copyright Sedat Pakay.