With out getting too academic about it, I love James Baldwin.
I loved him before I knew I was gay and fell even deeper in love with him once I acknowledged my own sexuality. Never in all of my voracious reading as a teenager had I encountered, up to that point, anyone who wrote about alienation, isolation, and loneliness so poignantly, honestly and beautifully.
I love him for being Black and out and loud and less than humble. I loved to watch old black and white videos of him speaking, deconstructing–with his big, expressive eyes, a hand at his temple as if to hold up his head with all these thoughts–the -isms that drove him to another country, where he was still lonely, isolated, and searching for peace of mind (thank you PBS.)
I love James Baldwin for giving me: Just Above My Head and Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, two of my favorite books that, in language aching with grief and love, explore familial and romantic life without being sentimental or pretentious. I love him for writing something as impossibly insightful and gorgeous and painful as this:
There is nothing more to be said. All we can do now is just hold on. That was why she held my hand. I recognized this as love–recognized it very quietly and, for the first time, without fear. My life, that desperately treacherous labyrinth, seemed to fall where there had been no light before. I began to see myself in others. I began for a moment to apprehend how Christopher must sometimes have felt. Everyone wishes to be loved, but in the event, nearly no one can bear it. Everyone desires love but also finds it impossible to believe that he deserves it. However great the private disasters to which love may lead, love itself is strikingly and mysteriously impersonal; it is a reality which is not altered by anything one does. Therefore, one does many things, turns the key in the lock over and over again, hoping to be locked out. Once locked out, one will never again be forced to encounter in the eyes of a stranger who loves him the impenetrable truth concerning the stranger, oneself, who is loved. And yet–one would prefer, after all, not to be locked out. One would prefer, merely, that the key unlocked a less stunningly unusual door.
-From Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone
I love that in all of that searching he never stopped being himself or forgot where he came from. Listen to that preacher’s kid sing.
James Baldwin (August 1, 1924 – November 30, 1987)