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Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own Hardcover – June 30, 2020
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James Baldwin grew disillusioned by the failure of the civil rights movement to force America to confront its lies about race. What can we learn from his struggle in our own moment?
Named one of the best books of the year by Time, The Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune • Winner of the Stowe Prize • Shortlisted for the Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice
“Not everything is lost. Responsibility cannot be lost, it can only be abdicated. If one refuses abdication, one begins again.”—James Baldwin
Begin Again is one of the great books on James Baldwin and a powerful reckoning with America’s ongoing failure to confront the lies it tells itself about race. Just as in Baldwin’s “after times,” argues Eddie S. Glaude Jr., when white Americans met the civil rights movement’s call for truth and justice with blind rage and the murders of movement leaders, so in our moment were the Obama presidency and the birth of Black Lives Matter answered with the ascendance of Trump and the violent resurgence of white nationalism.
In these brilliant and stirring pages, Glaude finds hope and guidance in Baldwin as he mixes biography—drawn partially from newly uncovered Baldwin interviews—with history, memoir, and poignant analysis of our current moment to reveal the painful cycle of Black resistance and white retrenchment. As Glaude bears witness to the difficult truth of racism’s continued grip on the national soul, Begin Again is a searing exploration of the tangled web of race, trauma, and memory, and a powerful interrogation of what we must ask of ourselves in order to call forth a new America.
“A rugged literary miracle.”—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
“Even if you don’t agree with Glaude’s interpretations, you’ll find yourself productively arguing with them. He parses, he pronounces, he cajoles. He spurs you to revisit Baldwin’s work yourself.”—The New York Times
“Not only is Baldwin brought rushing forth from the page, with all the beauty of his prose and complexity of his thought, but Glaude’s voice joins him with a force and clarity of its own. . . . Baldwin and Glaude offer us a path forward that is both exceedingly difficult and genuinely hopeful.”—The Post and Courier
“In the midst of an ugly Trump regime and a beautiful Baldwin revival, Eddie Glaude has plunged to the profound depths and [soared to the] sublime heights of Baldwin’s prophetic challenge to our present-day crisis.”—Cornel West, author of Democracy Matters and Race Matters
“Begin Again is . . . a timeless and spellbinding conversation between two brilliant writers.”—Edwidge Danticat, author of Brother, I’m Dying and Everything Inside
“One need not agree with everything in these pages to learn much from them, and for Americans seeking to understand our past, our present, and the possible futures before us, Begin Again challenges, illuminates, and points us toward, if not a more perfect union, at least a more just one.”—Jon Meacham, author of The Soul of America and Destiny and Power
“Glaude's work is urgent, pained, and strangely hopeful. He is issuing a call to reckoning: not just with the dishonesty of America's founding promises, but with the tolls that its intrinsic racism has taken on the artists and thinkers who have come before.”—Rebecca Traister, author of All the Single Ladies and Good and Mad
“James Baldwin is a man for our moment: in a time of Black Lives Matter, we’ve come to think about our past, our colonial history, enslavement, matters of race and identity. You’re left with an understanding of the extraordinary modernity, relevance, and the immense power of James Baldwin. It’s a simply wonderful book.”—Philippe Sands, author of East West Street
“The magic of Begin Again is that it allows us to ponder Baldwin both in his perilous era and in our own. Remarkable, and remarkably relevant.”—Tracy K. Smith, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Life on Mars
“Begin Again is an unparalleled masterpiece of social criticism. Glaude thinks alongside America’s finest essayist, matching the master’s firepower, brilliance, courage, and sensitivity at every turn.”—Imani Perry, author of Breathe and Looking for Lorraine
“In this powerful and elegant book, Glaude weaves together a biography, a meditation, a literary analysis, and a moral essay on America. . . . ”—Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci
About the Author
- Publisher : Crown; 1st edition (June 30, 2020)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0525575324
- ISBN-13 : 978-0525575320
- Item Weight : 13.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.63 x 1.26 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #30,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on September 28, 2021
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Eddie S Glaude, Jr. is masterful in his expression and drawing in the reader only to leave them quite confounded to the circumstances of their own reality. He explains and expounds on this all throughout his book "repeating himself...repeating himself...repeating himself" like the drumbeat of a death march casting a foreshadowing of things to come if one does not heed the apparent warnings and signs of the times. The challenge and call to action are clear. We must change and for real THIS time!
This book challenged me in ways I had not anticipated. Again, as I learn more about the world, history, people, places, and things the more I realize how much I really do not know, let alone fully comprehend. It gives me pause. Pause when I see others not slow down long enough to understand what they are really truly saying and how their 'intent' is ultimately doomed to disenfranchise their 'impact.' Pause to question myself and ask "why am I questioning them" and to repeat the introspection of "who am I." Pause to understand Jimmy and what he was really trying to tell 'the America' he loved so much. He was a patriot in the truest sense though some may feel him a traitor.
Jimmy, like Glaude, like me, was almost ready to give up on America, especially White America. I struggle still.
Jimmy had turned to White folks time and time again to help with the racial unrest in America but was often betrayed. White folks hurt Jimmy not realizing that in him was perhaps one of their greatest allies. Black folks betrayed Jimmy as well thinking of him as some type of sellout, a betrayal to blackness, and the cause. What few understood until much later is that Jimmy was definitely for America. A new American that would be fluid in accepting all and living up to the ideals penned by the Founding Fathers though their hearts were far from the narrative of that masterful work and their eyes dim to what our country would become.
When White people killed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. it crushed and changed Jimmy. Others who were alive when it happened were changed too. For me, the change took place this week when Breonna Taylor and her family found no justice, no peace! I was incensed. No justice, no peace took on a whole new meaning for me. The lack of peace in the nation is more so found in the depths of my very soul. Rayshard... Ahmaud... Daniel... George... Breonna... These names are more than unsettling and the nation has yet to hold up the mirror to itself and stand accountable, responsible, and repent. America is in rage and the people indeed imagine vain things (Psalm 2:1). My head hangs low and I repeat, "here we are now...here we are now...here we are now." I look up from whence cometh my help! (Psalm 121:1-2)
Jimmy. I would have never thought to call him that. Jimmy. I guess those that knew him best would engage him on such an informal platform. Jimmy. I feel as though I know him more and better than I thought possible though he is no longer with us.
One final thought is that when I personally see the face of Jimmy I see the face of my late Uncle Ducky. Perhaps as a kid, I couldn't say "Douglas" or "Dougy" so my childish naive mind fashion the words "Ducky." I imagine I was perhaps more familiar with ducks when I was little. Either way, the name is forever etched in my mind as Uncle Ducky. Jimmy and Uncle Ducky had the same look, the same demeanor, and the same cool way of speaking. They had the same small thin frame though I believe Uncle Ducky was much taller than Jimmy. Uncle Ducky had one of the smoothest ways of speaking and engaging in conversation. Sometimes his words slurred together due to a night of heavy drinking or smoking that stuff which is legal in some states today, but the point is it still made sense or, at least, sense to me. I miss him!
Jimmy, and Ducky, will be missed. The beauty in pursuing the works of James Baldwin is that perhaps somewhere along my journey I will learn about a man who penned his thoughts, condemnation, rebuke, love, and admiration for a country he deeply desired to make itself anew. To make itself anew for ALL people. To make itself anew because it CAN! To make itself anew because it can no longer afford NOT to.
It’s a marvelous journey through the Civil Rights movement and up and through the Obama and Trump administrations. It taps into the ways Baldwin’s shift into politics injured him personally and professionally. According to Mr. Glaude, Baldwin was trapped somewhere between the pacifism of King and the militancy of X and Angela Davis. And this middle ground brought with it a great deal of criticism from his contemporaries, including Cleaver and Hughes. But Baldwin seemed to be a more transformative man than other gave him credit for being.
The author focuses on the question the country has dealt with from its inception. It snakes its way through Reconstruction, the Civil Rights movement to the Trump administration. All of it pointing towards “appeals to white identity. The symbolism that white people will protect at any cost.”
Much hinges on the supposed “Negro problem.” Freed from bondage, “what will be his place among obvious superiors… how might we might respond to his demands for equality.”
In his early years, Baldwin believed in Thoreau’s call to “awaken the sleeper.” But after the violence and death, the church burnings, the race riots, the assassinations, he came to find there was no such thing as a Negro problem. Trying to reconcile the hate, he concluded that “Black power frightens them. White power doesn’t frighten them… It’s a waste of time to hate them… Hatred, in the end, corrodes the soul.”
What is happening in the country today is a reflection of the country’s oldest battle, “… the disaffected Trump voter … feel left out of an increasingly diverse America.”
Emancipation was more or less a result of a falling out between white men. And the myths and lies of Black America were renewed during Reconstruction as MLK said, “… as white historians tell, Negroes wallowed in corruption, opportunism… stupidity, were wanton evil, and ignorant… freedom was dangerous in the hands of inferior beings.” They didn’t view their own behavior and leadership as being this way, suffering from a superiority complex.
Baldwin often travelled to Paris and Istanbul to find refuge, to avoid being “broken on the wheel of life.” His sexuality was sometimes an issue even amongst his own. He attempted suicide. He battled lifelong depression. But in the end, Baldwin wanted to do something unprecedented. “To create ourselves without finding it necessary to create an enemy.”
I found the book fascinating although I will admit that on a few occasions it seemed slightly repetitious, like we covering the same ground again. Having scant knowledge of Baldwin’s life before reading this book, I’m not sure if there is anything revolutionary or revealing in it. I leave that to others to decide. I think it’s a great leap off point for anyone who seeks a better understanding of Baldwin, his life, his struggles, and the Civil Rights movement as it was and still is today. 5 stars.