The Price of the Ticket: My Literary Hero

M.J.Moore in The Paris Reviw:

James-Baldwin-Portrait-Paris-ReviewBack in 1985, on the morning of November 23 (a cold, wet, gray autumn Saturday), I woke up happy. At that time in my life, nothing could have been more unusual. But I knew that before that day’s sun had set, I was going to meet James Baldwin, whose body of work (the novels and short stories, his plays and all those exquisite essays) had inspired my own burning desire to write.

…For three years Baldwin’s books had meant the world to me. Back in the summer of ’82, when I transferred from a small college in Chicago to the flagship University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I brought my interest in the 1960s downstate. And shortly before leaving to enroll in two summertime classes, a PBS documentary called I Heard It Through the Grapevine was aired; James Baldwin was all over it. Throughout the program, Mr. B. pored over photographs of America and varied Americans in the late 1950s and early 1960s—from the mayhem at Little Rock in 1957 to the burning buses that carried Freedom Riders in 1961 and myriad other images; as one iconic photo after another was re-examined, Baldwin commented on camera, or quotations from his past essays were articulated in voice-overs. The sound of James Baldwin’s voice captured me with its splendid variety of tonal colors, its musically percussive rhetorical rhythms, and its soaring narrative power. His voice was the instrument that created what I’d later learn to see on the page as his unique brand of “spoken prose.” And at length, Baldwin reflected on the bloodshed, the torment, and the suffering that characterized the 1960s for him; I tried to do him justice now.

More here.