Something has gone away


In an essay about his friendship with Norman Mailer, written in early 1961 at the peak of his eloquence, James Baldwin recalled his reaction to the news that Mailer was running for mayor of New York. Baldwin initially dismissed the rumor as a joke, until “it became hideously clear that it was not a joke at all. I was furious. I thought . . . you’re copping out . . . It’s not your job.” Within a year or two, Baldwin himself had accepted a new job. Having attained prominence over the course of the 1950s as a novelist, with “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “Giovanni’s Room,” and as a reporter issuing passionately perceptive dispatches from Paris, Harlem and the disintegrating South, Baldwin found himself increasingly in demand as a speaker on behalf of the civil rights movement. After publication of “The Fire Next Time” in 1963, he became a celebrity presence at events — a “face.” At the end of the decade, however, demoralized by the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, he suffered a form of nervous collapse and retreated to the French hilltop village of St.-Paul-de-Vence, near Nice, where he lived in subdued peace and where he died in 1987. “Since Martin’s death . . . something has altered in me,” he wrote in his account of the tumultuous period, “No Name in the Street.” “Something has gone away.”

more from James Campbell at the NYT here.