By Denise Turney
“¯Trust your experience.” I underlined those very words found in the book written by internationally acclaimed author of the widely discussed and influential books: Go Tell It On The Mountain, Giovanni©ˆs Room, If Beale Street Could Talk, Nobody Knows My Name, Blues for Mister Charlie, The Evidence of Things Not Seen, The Price of the Ticket, and Jimmy’s Blues. James Baldwin wrote more than twenty works of fiction and non-fiction. He received numerous awards among which include the Eugene F. Saxon Memorial Trust Award, a Rosenwald Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Ford Foundation grant. He was made a Commander of the Legion of Honor in 1986. The Fire Next Time is one of James Baldwin’s great non-fiction works. The book begins with a letter written by the author to his nephew (a man also named James). The letter begins, ‘“Dear James , I have begun this letter five times and torn it up five times. I keep seeing your face, which is also the face of your father and my brother.”
Written in the early 1960s, it is not surprising that James Baldwin struggled with writing The Fire Next Time. The social climate in the country was like a smoldering storm that was forever brewing or spilling out into the streets. In the book James Baldwin openly and candidly tackles racial and religious issues that were not only relevant four decades ago but which also remain at the front of local, national and global events today. His descriptions of Harlem after the Renaissance had long gone bring to memory present-day neighborhoods and communities ravaged by delinquency, poor parenting and drugs. Readers may be surprised to discover that James Baldwin was a minister when he was a young man. It seemed he was following in the steps of his father, a man who was also a minister. James found his father to be a hard man and especially difficult to please. Combined with the duplicity James Baldwin witnessed in the religious church, in time he abandoned his work in the ministry and focused more on social issues and artistic pursuits.
The Fire Next Time is poignant, powerful, stirring, striking, moving and unforgettable. It may well be one of James Baldwin’s better works. The book is tightly written. It is the honesty with which James shares his thoughts surrounding events he experienced that so aptly engages the reader in the work. I did not get the sense that James was forcing judgment (writing in such a way as to encourage readers to perceive the events in a particular light). His man purpose for writing the book appears to have been to get the reader to think. Readers concerned about local and international human relations will find valuable truths in The Fire Next Time.
Review by Denise Turney
Author of Portia, Love Has Many Faces and Spiral
Visit Denise online at http://www.chistell.com.