Book Review: The Legacy of James Baldwin

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race (2016)
Jessmyn Ward, editor

If you are thinking about participating in the “Now Read This” book group, you may also want to read this collection of essays compiled and edited by Jesmyn Ward, the author of Sing, Unburied, Sing (which is the book club selection for January).

Ward is a gifted young storyteller and writer. I love both her works of fiction (Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing), which are also stories about race in America. But this anthology is quite different. In her introduction, she explains that she took this project on as a way to process and respond to her frustration and grief relating to the 2012 Trayvon Martin shooting. Inspired by James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, she hoped that compiling the works of a group of “great thinkers and extraordinary voices” of her generation would serve as a reminder of Baldwin’s message to all African Americans: “You matter. I love you. Please don’t forget it.”

I must admit that I was not familiar with many of the contributors. But the essays are really good, and cover a range of interesting topics. Some are heartbreaking, some are funny, but all of them are thoughtful and thought-provoking. As Ward says in her introduction:

“I feel it: all these essays give me hope. I believe there is power in words, power in asserting our existence, our experience, our lives, through words. That sharing our stories confirms our humanity. That it creates community, both within our community and beyond it.”

Men We Reaped, Ward’s memoir, is next on my list. It is (mostly) about five African-American men she grew up with, including her brother, all of whom “died young, violent deaths.” I am sure it will be another informative and evocative read.

If you want to order any of the titles I’ve mentioned, here are the links:

Salvage the Bones (2011) (National Book Award)
Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) (National Book Award)
The Fire This Time (2016)
Men We Reaped (2013)

Review by Roberta Jordan, Outreach and Instruction Librarian, Teen Services Coordinator

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