Monday, September 14, 2015

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

My readings for the NEH program that I attended this summer really started me on the road to frantically reading trying to understand race and racism.....

On my return home from my summer travels, I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and this book was the first of many that I have read lately that has me really thinking and rethinking my thoughts on race. Reading up on Coates, I found out that he is a student of Baldwin, and I began to think that I need to give Baldwin some of my time. A few books after Between the World and Me, I read Losing My Cool, by Thomas Williams, and he also makes reference to James Baldwin in his book.

So, I called my professor of African American history friend to talk about Baldwin, and he gave me lots of insight, and he told me to study Baldwin for myself. My friend, Trinia, a fellow NEH scholar, suggested that I read some of Baldwin’s essays, and another friend, Rob, suggested that I read The Last Interview and Other Conversations

So, I decided to read the interviews first to get to know Baldwin better, then I read his essays where he eloquently expounds upon some of the issues in American as he saw them, and he even offered some hope. Finally, If Beale Street Could Talk, a fiction piece, was highly recommended by my friend, Julia, and so I spent one of the most beautiful days sitting at my favorite market frantically reading If Beale Street Could Talk.

If Beale Street Could Talk is told from the perspective of a nineteen year old lady, Tish, who is madly in love with twenty-two year old, Fonny. Tish’s voice is so clear and honest, and she tells about the love between she and Fonny in a manner that would make even the love doubter want to fall in love. 

However, Fonny is in jail for rape, and Tish and her entire family are doing all that they can to get her love out of jail and home to her and his baby that she is carrying. However, being that this is a James Baldwin story, it just ain’t that simple when a person is Black and living in America.

I was enthralled by this story and was believing for a happy ending, but I am coming to the realization that sometimes the happy ending just does not come, and it didn’t in If Beale Street Could Talk.

This story is short and intense and it shows the complexity of race and racism in American, and I Oh how I wish that the details of this story did not ring true today. But, sadly they do.

My people, I finished this book with an extremely heavy heart, mainly because I am a sucker for happy endings, but really because I thought of the pain that writing this book must have caused James Baldwin.

This is a book that needs to be read and discussed, and read again and discussed, and then read again and discussed...

James Baldwin is someone whom we all should read, and I almost never use the word should, but should is an appropriate word when it comes to reading James Baldwin.

So, my people, for awhile, I must escape this intense world of reading that has completely engulfed me in order to give my heart and brain a little break. So, I will be reading The House Girl by Tara Conklin. I sure hope that it offers the relief that I need...

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Reading this definitely makes me want to read If Beale Street Could Talk! This past week has been so rewarding for me as a teacher because many of the themes/issues you discussed in this post were self-discoveries that my 7th graders made without my prompting. I had several kids come to me at the end of an inner/outer circle discussion saying, "Readng about Malcolm X has changed my perspective on racism in America." What a realization!! I need to find more ways to bring pieces like Baldwin's into my classroom for 7th graders. I believe that our nation suffers for various reasons, but we really suffer from the fact that our souls are deprived of the right to speak and discuss...not just to speak about what has happened, but to take the then and introduce it to the now. This year my students are embracing their souls by writing what's buried deep within and speaking truths to the things we like to keep silent. Keep posting! This is great stuff!

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