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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. In the era of Trump, what can we learn from his struggle?
"Not everything is lost. Responsibility cannot be lost, it can only be abdicated. If one refuses abdication, one begins again." --James Baldwin
We live, according to Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., in the after times, when the promise of Black Lives Matter and the attempt to achieve a new America was met with the election of Donald Trump, a racist president whose victory represents yet another failure of America to face the lies it tells itself about race.
We have been here before: For James Baldwin, the after times came in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, when a similar attempt to compel a national confrontation with the truth was answered with the murders of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. In these years, spanning from the publication of The Fire Next Time in 1963 to that of No Name in the Street in 1972, Baldwin was transformed into a more overtly political writer, a change that came at great professional and personal cost. But from that journey, Baldwin emerged with a sense of renewed purpose about the necessity of pushing forward in the face of disillusionment and despair.
In the story of Baldwin's crucible, Glaude suggests, we can find hope and guidance through our own after times, this Trumpian era of shattered promises and white retrenchment. Mixing biography--drawn partially from newly uncovered interviews--with history, memoir, and trenchant analysis of our current moment, Begin Again is Glaude's attempt, following Baldwin, to bear witness to the difficult truth of race in America today. It is at once a searing exploration that lays bare the tangled web of race, trauma, and memory, and a powerful interrogation of what we all must ask of ourselves in order to call forth a new America.
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Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor at Princeton University and author of Democracy in Black.Review:
“In this powerful and elegant book on James Baldwin, Eddie Glaude weaves together a biography, a meditation, a literary analysis, and a moral essay on America. Like Baldwin’s own essays and books, it is at times both loving and angry, challenging and uplifting, and always beautiful. Both Baldwin and this book speak directly to today.”—Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci
“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. He pushes, prods and disrobes history, forcing us to face uncomfortable truths and insisting upon our better inheritances. Glaude’s stunningly crafted prose—incisive, vulnerable, and beautiful—is as breathtaking as his brilliance. This book is precisely the witness we need for our treacherous times.”—Imani Perry, author of Breathe and Looking for Lorraine
“In this searing, provocative, and ultimately hopeful book, Eddie Glaude, Jr., takes us on a fascinating journey through the mind and heart of James Baldwin. But a parallel odyssey through Glaude’s own formidable mind and generous heart unfolds as well—an odyssey that tells us much about the way we live now and how we might come to live if we could, to borrow a phrase of Lincoln’s, think anew and act anew. 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
“In the marrow of Eddie Glaude’s Begin Again is a rugged literary miracle. In evocative prose, Glaude showed me how we might use the unexceptional yet brutal nightmare of Trumpism to not simply better understand the work and life of James Baldwin, but how that discovery must also lead us as people, not simply as a nation, to ‘begin again’ and walk collectively toward actual liberation.”—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
“In the midst of an ugly Trump regime and a beautiful Baldwin revival, Eddie Glaude has plunged to the profound depths and sublime heights of Baldwin’s prophetic challenge to our present-day crisis. This book is, undoubtedly, the best treatment we have of Baldwin’s genius and relevance. Glaude’s masterpiece puts a smile on Baldwin’s face from the grave even as Baldwin weeps for us in this grim moment! With subtle brilliance and heartfelt tears, Glaude breaks bread with Baldwin in order to give us courage and hope!”—Cornel West, author of Democracy Matters and Race Matters
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