Tag Archives: Library of America

DARRYL PINCKNEY ON JAMES BALDWIN

Since Martin [Luther King]’s death, in Memphis, and that tremendous day in Atlanta, something has altered in me, something has gone away. Perhaps even more than the death itself, the manner of his death has forced me into a judgment concerning human life and human beings which I have always been reluctant to make—indeed, I can see that a great deal of what the knowledgeable would call my lifestyle is dictated by this reluctance. Incontestably, alas, most people are not, in action, worth very much; and yet, every human being is an unprecedented miracle. One tries to treat them as the miracles they are, while trying to protect oneself against the disasters they’ve become. This is not very different from the act of faith demanded by all those marches and petitions while Martin was still alive. One could scarcely be deluded by Americans anymore, one scarcely dared expect anything from the great, vast, blank generality; and yet one was compelled to demand of Americans—and for their sakes, after all—a generosity, a clarity, and a nobility which they did not dream of demanding of themselves. Part of the error was irreducible, in that the marchers and petitioners were forced to suppose the existence of an entity which, when the chips were down, could not be located—i.e., there are no American people yet: but to this speculation (or desperate hope) we shall presently return. Perhaps, however, the moral of the story (and the hope of the world) lies in what one demands, not of others, but of oneself. However that may be, the failure and the betrayal are in the record book forever, and sum up, and condemn, forever, those descendants of a barbarous Europe who arbitrarily and arrogantly reserve the right to call themselves Americans.

The mind is a strange and terrible vehicle, moving according to rigorous rules of its own; and my own mind, after I had left Atlanta, began to move backward in time, to places, people, and events I thought I had forgotten. Sorrow drove it there, I think, sorrow, and a certain kind of bewilderment, triggered, perhaps, by something which happened to me in connection with Martin’s funeral.

When Martin was murdered, I was based in Hollywood, working—working, in fact, on the screen version of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This was a difficult assignment, since I had known Malcolm, after all, crossed swords with him, worked with him, and held him in that great esteem which is not easily distinguishable, if it is distinguishable at all, from love. (The Hollywood gig did not work out because I did not wish to be a party to a second assassination: but we will also return to Hollywood, presently.)

Very shortly before his death, I had to appear with Martin at Carnegie Hall, in New York. Having been on the Coast so long, I had nothing suitable to wear for my Carnegie Hall gig, and so I rushed out, got a dark suit, got it fitted, and made my appearance. Something like two weeks later, I wore this same suit to Martin’s funeral; returned to Hollywood; presently, had to come East again, on business. I ran into Leonard Lyons one night, and I told him that I would never be able to wear that suit again. Leonard put this in his column. I went back to Hollywood.

Weeks later, either because of a Civil Rights obligation, or because of Columbia Pictures, I was back in New York. On my desk in New York were various messages—and it must be said that my sister, Gloria, who worked for me then, is extremely selective, not to say brutal, about the messages she leaves on my desk. I don’t see, simply, most of the messages I get. I couldn’t conceivably live with them. No one could—as Gloria knows. However, my best friend, black, when I had been in junior high school, when I was twelve or thirteen, had been calling and calling and calling. The guilt of the survivor is a real guilt—as I was now to discover. In a way that I may never be able to make real for my countrymen, or myself, the fact that I had “made it”—that is, had been seen on television, and at Sardi’s, could (presumably!) sign a check anywhere in the world, could, in short, for the length of an entrance, a dinner, or a drink, intimidate headwaiters by the use of a name which had not been mine when I was born and which love had compelled me to make my own–meant that I had betrayed the people who had produced me. Nothing could be more unutterably paradoxical: to have thrown in your lap what you never dreamed of getting, and, in sober, bitter truth, could never have dreamed of having, and that at the price of an assumed betrayal of your brothers and your sisters! One is always disproving the accusation in action as futile as it is inevitable. — James Baldwin, from No Name in the Street*

Join Darryl Pinckney for a “close reading of Baldwin’s beautiful, blistering memoir of the events that forged his consciousness of race and identity—growing up in Harlem, the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, his long residence in France, his fateful decision to retum to the American South”—presented by the Library of America.

READING JAMES BALDWIN NOW—DARRYL PINCKNEY ON NO NAME IN THE STREET

Thursday, July 16.

3 pm on the West Coast; 6 pm East Coast.

*James Baldwin, “Take Me to the Water,” in No Name in the Street (1972). Reprinted in James Baldwin: Collected Essays, selection by Toni Morrison (New York: Library of America, 1998), 357–359.

From top: James Baldwin and Joan Baez, Selma to Montgomery March, 1965; Baldwin (left), Sammy Davis, Jr., and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Baldwin in 1972 with No Name in the Street; Darryl Pinckney in London, 1991, photograph by Dominique Nabokov; Baldwin in the 1970s in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, photograph by Guy Le Querrec. Images courtesy and © the photographers.

FOR GLENN O’BRIEN

At the Hammer Museum on Tuesday, Ernest Hardy, Jonathan Lethem, Andy Spade, and Linda Yablonsky will read from INTELLIGENCE FOR DUMMIES, the final book of essays and other writings by the late editor and author Glenn O’Brien.

Following the readings, Yablonsky and the book’s publisher Michael Zilkha will participate in a conversation and Q & A.

GLENN O’BRIEN—INTELLIGENCE FOR DUMMIES

Tuesday, January 14, at 7:30 pm.

Hammer Museum

10899 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles.

From top: Glenn O’Brien, PARIS LA 15 (2017); O’Brien (left) and Mick Jones of The Clash on O’Brien’s TV Party in the 1970s, photograph by Kate Simon; Dash Snow (left) and O’Brien at Margiela show, Paris, September 2008, photograph by Tamara Weber; O’Brien, Intelligence for Dummies: Essays and Other Collected Writings (2019), ZE Books; O’Brien, editor, The Cool School: Writing from America’s Hip Underground, Library of America; O’Brien. Images courtesy and © the author’s estate, the photographers, the publishers, and the Hammer Museum.

CARSON MCCULLERS

A celebration of Carson McCullers at Film Forum tonight will include a screening of the Fred Zinnemann masterpiece A MEMBER OF THE WEDDING (1952), based on McCullers’ novel.

Opening the double bill, Karen Allen will introduce her 35-minute film A TREE. A ROCK. A CLOUD. (2016).

 

THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING and A TREE. A ROCK. A CLOUD

Monday, September 24, at 6:30 pm.

Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, New York City.

See: Hilton Als on McCullers

and: Library of America—The Collected Works of Carson McCullers

Above image credit: Columbia Pictures.

Below: Ethel Waters (left), Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris at the opening night party for the Broadway production of A Member of the Wedding.

Photograph by Ruth Orkin.

NATHANAEL WEST

“I cannot do a review of Miss Lonelyhearts, but here, at random, are some things I thought when writing it:

“As subtitle: ‘A novel in the form of a comic strip.’ The chapters to be squares in which many things happen through one action. The speeches contained in the conventional balloons. I abandoned this idea, but retained some of the comic strip technique: Each chapter, instead of going forward in time, also goes backward, forward, up and down in space like a picture…

“Forget the epic, the master work. In America fortunes do not accumulate, the soil does not grow, families have no history. Leave slow growth to the book reviewers, you only have time to explode.” — Nathanael West, 1933

 

Nathanael West, “Some Notes on Miss L.,” in Nathanael West: Novels and Other Writings(New York: Library of America, 1997), 401–402. West is the author of The Day of the Locust and Miss Lonelyhearts.

Image credit above: Library of America.

Below: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy.

URSULA K. LE GUIN

In tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin, who died last week, the Ace Hotel published a brief recent talk with the master of science fiction and fantasy:

You’ve been working and living in Portland since 1958. How have you seen the local literary culture and community change over the years? Do you think the Wordstock Literary Festival has shifted the literary culture here at all, or that it serves the community in some special way?

Hey, I thought you said this interview would be short and simple. The literary history of Portland since 1958 is short and simple? The literary scene here was never simple. Maybe the biggest change in it is that women count for more than they used to. Due partly to a major societal shift, but also, specifically, to people like Judith Barrington and Ruth Gundle and many, many other activists working to get women writers out of the margins and into the middle of the page.

During the first few years after Brian Booth energized us to get Oregon Literary Arts going,  the literary community, writers and readers, came together at the Oregon Book Awards for real celebrations. They were great. But it’s hard to keep that much pizzazz going. The current Literary Arts does a terrific job of outreach to all of Oregon.

The old book fair at ArtQuake in the Park Blocks was a hoot. Talk about keeping Portland weird! Wordstock is ever so much more respectable and outward-looking and success-oriented, bringing best selling authors from the East Coast and all. That’s probably a fair reflection of what people want.

Tell me about how your “source” – internal, creative or otherwordly – for writing finds its expression in such varied iterations as children’s books, poetry, essays and stories. Do you work on one project at a time or many at once, and do they feed each other in any way? 

I can’t tell you anything much about my internal, creative, or otherworldly sources, or how they work. I just sit around and wait for them to tell me what I’m supposed to be writing next, and then I write it, if I can. Good work if you can get it.

I’m sure you’ve answered more questions about gender and writing than you can stand – but, here’s one more. You have been publishing books for over forty years. Tell me about your experience of gender – personally and professionally, as well as how creating science fiction expresses, changes or anticipates social evolution around gender.

I made out better in some ways than most women writers of my generation, because I wasn’t competing for the big time awards and glittering prizes (still reserved for male writers at a fairly standard rate of from ten to one to four to one.)  My work got shunted off into the slums of genre, where I won lots of awards, and made friends, too. The poor are always more generous than the rich.

Now that genre seems to be eating mainstream, and men seem to be less afraid of being eaten by women, things could get even better. If only they can figure out how to make writing e-books pay writers, before stupid Amazon and the stupid pirates destroy the system, and all the writers starve, and THEN what’ll you read? Huh? Aspirin labels?

Imaginative fiction is a great place for people who feel society could use a few changes. Science fiction is particularly good at showing what a different society would actually be like to live in, whether it’s the macho utopias of space opera, or the mean streets of cyberpunk, or the stuff writers like me come up with, like re-inventing gender, or giving Portland a subway out to Reed.

See: https://literary-arts.org/organizer/ursula-k-le-guin/

Ursula LeGuinThe Complete Orsinia (2016). Image credit: Library of America.

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