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Ante Antietam

Michael Irwin, 24 January 1980

Confederates 
by Thomas Keneally.
Collins, 427 pp., £5.75, October 1980, 0 00 222141 1
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Just Above My Head 
by James Baldwin.
Joseph, 597 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 0 7181 1764 6
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Winter Doves 
by David Cook.
Secker, 213 pp., £4.95, October 1980, 0 436 10673 6
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All Girls Together 
by Paula Neuss.
Duckworth, 141 pp., £5.95, November 1980, 0 7156 1454 1
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... were to judge him simply on the evidence of Just Above My Head, one would have to say that James Baldwin’s talents, though striking, are notably incomplete. He is like an oarsman who powerfully thrashes out a circle because one arm is stronger than the other. The starting-point of the story is the sudden death of a 39-year-old gospel singer ...

The Last Witness

Colm Tóibín: The career of James Baldwin, 20 September 2001

... On 1 February 2001 eight writers came to pay homage to James Baldwin in the Lincoln Center in New York. The event was booked out and there were people standing outside desperately looking for tickets. The audience was strange; in general in New York an audience is either young or old (in the Lincoln Center, mainly old), black or white (in the Lincoln Center, almost exclusively white), gay or straight (in the Lincoln Center it is often hard to tell ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Voices from Beyond the Grave, 20 November 2008

... voice in their writing was a secret between the work and its readers. We don’t know what Henry James sounded like, and that is part of the mystery we enjoy. So much so that hearing the actual voices of dead writers can come as a shock. The British Library has decided, most pleasingly, to begin trading in that kind of shock, with the issue of a bunch of ...

Spying on Writers

Christian Lorentzen, 11 October 2018

... call to the author’s publicist, and the rest would probably come up if an agent googled, say, ‘James Baldwin communist?’ Like lazy students of literature everywhere, the agents filing reports didn’t usually bother to do their reading. In the documents collected here only the report on Norman Mailer’s Miami and the Siege of Chicago delivers the ...

Why go high?

Adam Shatz, 19 November 2020

... move beyond its worst expression. We have a long way to go before America becomes, at last, what James Baldwin called ‘another country’.6 ...

White Man’s Heaven

Michael Wood, 7 February 1991

Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin 
by James Campbell.
Faber, 306 pp., £14.99, January 1991, 0 571 15391 7
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James BaldwinArtist on Fire 
by W.J. Weatherby.
Joseph, 412 pp., £17.99, June 1990, 0 7181 3403 6
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... It may be an accident of rereading that makes me want to put James Baldwin’s essays and novels together, to see The Fire Next Time and Giovanni’s Room, for example, as versions of each other. But the matched books do make interesting sense: more thoughtful sense, perhaps, than the already powerful separate stories ...

Tears in the Café Select

Christopher Prendergast, 9 March 1995

Paris Interzone: Richard Wright, Lolita, Boris Vian and Others on the Left Bank 1946-1960 
by James Campbell.
Secker, 305 pp., £20, September 1994, 0 436 20106 2
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Foreign Correspondent: Paris in the Sixties 
by Peter Lennon.
Picador, 220 pp., £16.99, April 1994, 0 330 31911 6
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The Good Ship Venus: The Erotic Voyage of the Olympia Press 
by John de St Jorre.
Hutchinson, 332 pp., £20, September 1994, 0 09 177874 3
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... Paris figures in the titles of both James Campbell’s and Peter Lennon’s books, but this is a restricted, specialised Paris. Campbell takes us into something called the ‘Interzone’ (the term is odd, and troublesome), inhabited by assorted exiles, misfits and drop-outs during the Fifties and late Forties. Lennon’s jaunty impressionistic book takes us into the Sixties, with an account of his experiences as a young journalist writing, sporadically, for the Guardian, while, in the intervals, getting caught up in all kinds of adventures (best of all an improbable encounter, in the company of Samuel Beckett, with Peter O’Toole ...

Answering back

James Campbell, 11 July 1991

The Intended 
by David Dabydeen.
Secker, 246 pp., £13.99, February 1991, 0 436 20007 4
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Cambridge 
by Caryl Phillips.
Bloomsbury, 185 pp., £13.99, March 1991, 0 7475 0886 0
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Lucy 
by Jamaica Kincaid.
Cape, 176 pp., £11.99, April 1991, 0 224 03055 8
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... Scottish writers have been insisting on it for years. Adherents of a politics of language such as James Kelman and the poet Tom Leonard (actually the midwife of the Glasgow ‘renaissance’, though less frequently mentioned than his novelist colleagues) do not group together on exclusively nationalist lines: they see themselves as part of a school which has ...

White Lies

James Campbell: Nella Larsen, 5 October 2006

In Search of Nella Larsen: A Biography of the Colour Line 
by George Hutchinson.
Harvard, 611 pp., £25.95, June 2006, 0 674 02180 0
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... she said. “I thought maybe you were just another wop or something.”’ Twenty years earlier, James Weldon Johnson, a black man who served as American consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua during the Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft administrations, opened his novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) with the sentence: ‘I know that in ...

Public Words

Randolph Quirk, 19 February 1981

Language – the Loaded Weapon 
by Dwight Bolinger.
Longman, 224 pp., £9.95, October 1980, 0 582 29107 0
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... slurs’, as in ‘Eenie-meenie-miney-mo’. Reflecting upon expressions like black-hearted, James Baldwin wrote recently that ‘for a black writer in this country to be born into the English language is to realise that the assumptions on which the language operates are his enemy.’ So, admits Bolinger, are corresponding assumptions the enemy of ...

Heavenly Cities

Daniel Aaron, 10 October 1991

The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities 
by Richard Sennett.
Faber, 266 pp., £17.50, June 1991, 0 571 16192 8
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... weight of ‘social customs and circumstances’ and conflated sympathy and softness. In contrast, James Baldwin attained ‘natality’ (Arendt’s term for ‘the birth of the will to make oneself over again as an adult’) through the power of empathy. The Fire Next Time, according to Sennett, enacts a process in the course of which a black ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Who’s Afraid of the Library of America?, 19 June 2008

... too far. Wilson’s canonisation came after those of Charles Brockden Brown, H.P. Lovecraft, James Weldon Johnson, George Kaufman, William Bartram and Theodore Roosevelt. He might not have been too chuffed about that. I am an abject fan of the Library. I own, I find, ten of its volumes: three of Parkman, one each of Henry ...

Getting on

Joyce Carol Oates, 12 January 1995

Colored People: A Memoir 
by Henry Louis Gates.
Viking, 216 pp., £16, January 1995, 0 670 85737 8
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... those lives themselves are less significant? ‘Colour is not a human or personal reality,’ James Baldwin said, ‘it is a political reality.’ Substitute ‘gender’, ‘ethnic identity’ or ‘class’ for the word ‘colour’, and one sees how far-ranging and how potentially anarchic the controversy is. And how far from being resolved, or ...

What Is Great about Ourselves

Pankaj Mishra: Closing Time, 21 September 2017

The Retreat of Western Liberalism 
by Edward Luce.
Little, Brown, 240 pp., £16.99, May 2017, 978 1 4087 1041 8
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The Fate of the West: Battle to Save the World’s Most Successful Political Idea 
by Bill Emmott.
Economist, 257 pp., £22, May 2017, 978 1 61039 780 3
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The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics 
by David Goodhart.
Hurst, 256 pp., £20, March 2017, 978 1 84904 799 9
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The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics 
by Mark Lilla.
Harper, 143 pp., £20, August 2017, 978 0 06 269743 1
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The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam 
by Douglas Murray.
Bloomsbury, 343 pp., £18.99, May 2017, 978 1 4729 4224 1
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... Spectator, once suavely edited, now serves as a fraternity house for Douglas Murray, Toby Young, James Delingpole and Rod Liddle; pummelling Muslims and high-fiving on Brexit, these right-wing bros are to the posh periodicals what Jeremy Clarkson was to the BBC. Murray’s book-length screed, The Strange Death of Europe, is full of Trump-style ...

Why do white people like what I write?

Pankaj Mishra: Ta-Nehisi Coates, 22 February 2018

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy 
by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Hamish Hamilton, 367 pp., £16.99, October 2017, 978 0 241 32523 0
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... bin Laden’s hideout under torture. ‘A racist society can’t but fight a racist war,’ James Baldwin wrote in 1967, ‘the assumptions acted on at home are also acted on abroad.’ During the war on terror the traffic between the US and various shithole countries wasn’t only in assumptions: there was also a wholesale exporting of ...

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