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James Baldwin, like an Old Testament prophet whose insistent voice refuses to fall silent, has been one of this country’s most persistent witnesses. He is a witness in that he testifies to everything he thinks and feels as we move through the minefields of love/hate, Black/white, rich/poor relationships in twentieth century America.
His complex prose style has often been favorably compared to the King James Version of the Bible (primarily the fire and brimstone old testament). Although books such as The Fire Next Time have earned Baldwin a reputation for being a harsh critic, James Baldwin is actually most concerned with the problems and possibilities of finding and holding love.
While he has not found it easy to live and work in this country, Baldwin continues to prolifically produce novels and essays. Most often he writes from a small town in France, but on occasions he has sent work to us from Turkey. The important thing is that he is not running away but rather searching out a rock, a desk, a stone tablet from which he can find the needed moments of silence and rest out of which will come rushing full force another letter, or a new nerve- jangling essay, or perhaps a huge and rich novel (such as his latest Just Above My Head which some critics think is his best since his first novel Go Tell It On The Mountain).
Having crossed the half-century mark, he is no longer an angry young man: he is an elder. He is a seer who has seen much. There is much we can learn from the visions he has, visions which have been tempered by a long time coming.
James Baldwin, a witness, a writer, a Black survivor: listen, he speaks and it is life-song he is singing.