Recently I had the opportunity to read and write a review of Jesmyn Ward's wonderful new edited volume, The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks on Race, which pays obvious tribute to the great James Baldwin. It also features work by nineteen of today's most insightful and highly regarded writers--including Carol Anderson, , Mitchell S. Jackson, Emily Raboteau, Claudia Rankine, and Natasha Trethewey, and Isabel Wilkerson, Kevin Young. I've read the work of some of whom of these authors many times before (like Edwidge Danticat), and others for the first time, such as Garnette Cadogan.
I learned a great deal from each of the selections in this anthology. And about so many things. Perhaps most obviously, living while black and writing on race stand out; as would be expected in a book that takes cues for its title from James Baldwin's now classic book, The Fire Next Time (1962).
Yet what resonated most powerfully with me while reading this new volume were the thoughtful reflections on the joys and anxieties attendant to raising children--and raising black children, in particular--in this peculiar historical moment. A moment when, now, a black president is at once an undeniable reality and a thing of the past even as the racial (that is, the overtly anti-black) pasts that many thought (or hoped and wished) were long behind us are the stuff of the everyday news cycle.
So much more that could be said... For now, what follows is an excerpt from the essay, followed by link to full piece on Public Books.
"James Baldwin’s legacy looms powerfully in this current moment. This may be all the more true for black writers. Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, one of the contributors to Jesmyn Ward’s timely new anthology of essays about race in the United States, admits that she has often “found time to pray intensely at the altar of Baldwin.” Her religious metaphor is apt. Baldwin was both a secular master of the American essay and novel, and a spiritual seer on race matters. At the same time, his writing often hummed in the registers of the Afro-Protestant churches where he first heard the Word call him by name.
In her introduction, Ward explains that she found herself turning to Baldwin’s essays in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012 and, subsequently, of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in 2013. Winner of the National Book Award for her 2011 novel, Salvage the Bones, Ward sketches a direct line to Baldwin by adapting the title of his 1963 classic, The Fire Next Time. Her title, The Fire This Time, shifts from the future to the present tense, from prophecy to confirmation. However, in contrast to Baldwin’s singular epistle, Ward’s book is an anthology. As such, it gathers a range of perspectives that don’t always align. This is not a criticism; it is simply an acknowledgement of the constraints and possibilities of genre. Ward’s The Fire This Time provides a rich and varied portrait of the work that race does in the making of black lives and literature today. There’s less critique, more nuanced considerations and layered contexts, befitting the complexity of black life in 2016.
Anthologies rely upon dialogue more than argument... "
To continue reading the full essay, go to Public Books