Rediscover: The Fire Next Time
Writer and activist James Baldwin (1924-1987) scrutinized racial, sexual and class disparities in American culture. He was raised in Harlem by an impoverished mother and abusive stepfather, where mistreatment by white police officers, a search for solace in religion, and the realization that he was homosexual all greatly influenced his future writing. Baldwin, disillusioned by the oppression of black and gay men in the United States, moved to France at age 24, where he remained an avid supporter of the Civil Rights Movement.
Baldwin's The Fire Next Time (1963) contains two essays exploring the role of race in American history and the intersections between race and religion. "My Dungeon Shook" warns Baldwin's 14-year-old nephew about the immense historical and contemporary challenges black men face in the United States. "Down at the Cross," the longer of the two essays, chronicles Baldwin's early exposure to and later rejection of Christianity, plus his experiences with the Nation of Islam. Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me was conceived as a modern version of Baldwin's letter to his nephew. In 2016, Scribner published The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward with contributions from Natasha Trethewey, Isabel Wilkerson, Edwidge Danticat and more. The Fire Next Time is available from Vintage ($13.95). --Tobias Mutter