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Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin, Beacon Press, 1955, 175 pp
When I originally created My Big Fat Reading Project lists, I had planned to read only James Baldwin's novels. Seeing the 2016 documentary, I Am Not Your Negro last month changed my mind. Now I want to read everything he wrote.
Notes of a Native Son is a collection of essays including a book review and a movie review, all published in various magazines between 1948 and 1955. Baldwin was only 24 years old in 1948 but that incisive intelligence and willingness to speak truth to power was already in full display.
I find it challenging to review such a collection so I will simply record some quotes that spoke to me and my growing knowledge of the human condition.
From "Everybody's Protest Novel" 1949:
"It is the peculiar triumph of society-and its loss-that it is able to convince those people to whom it has given inferior status of the reality of this decree; it has the force and the weapons to translate its dictum into fact, so that the allegedly inferior are actually made so, insofar as the societal realities are concerned."
From "Many Thousands Gone" 1951:
"It is only in his music...that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story."
From "Journey to Atlanta" 1948
"Negroes distrust politicians most."
Much more to ponder can be found in these pages. The overall idea I took away is that history matters; we are our own history. It is crucial to have learned history in order to understand ourselves, others, and our present.
My reading list for 1955 consists of 39 books. Ten female authors are represented and now one, but only one, American Negro. Does anyone know of other books by American Negroes published in 1955?
A little reading group story: My intrepid Tiny Book Club, membership of three women, went to see I Am Not Your Negro together one week after having met to discuss Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. We discussed the movie over dinner and decided we were not done with the subject nor with James Baldwin.
We each chose a different Baldwin book to read and met again to discuss. I read Notes of a Native Son, the other two read Going to Meet the Man (his story collection from 1965) and The Fire Next Time (two long essays published in 1963) respectively. It was a pretty cool way to structure a reading group discussion.
(Notes of a Native Son is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)