THE PRICE OF THE TICKET

COLLECTED NONFICTION 1948-1985

Perhaps only a young black writer as prickly as the early Baldwin himself should review this, though at first it seems unreviewable by a black of any age, since Baldwin begins by rejecting blackness or negritude itself as a self-defeating, even strangling self-categorization. His strategy from the start has been to paint himself ever more tightly into a comer defined by everything he rejects (at one time or another, just about everything). With the sole exception of his 1985 book on the Atlanta child murders, this volume brings together every piece of nonfiction, short and long, that Baldwin wishes to save. It is a stunning achievement, violently personal, gifted, distilled from a lifelong mediation on race, sometimes less intelligent than given to big generalizations and intellectual grandiosity, yet ever a whiplash on the national conscience, if steadily remote in its fury. Baldwin opens with a new essay, "The Price of the Ticket," describing his early days as a reviewer-essayist for highbrow leftist periodicals, then summarizes his feelings about the total racism of current American institutions: "Leaving aside my friends, the people I love, who cannot, usefully, be described as either black or white, they are, like life itself, thank God, many many colors, I do not feel, alas, that my country has any reason for self-congratulation"—a sentence, alas, that is a Baldwinian jumble. His early essays often find him straining for destructive criticism: it is Baldwin, after all, who sees the black in white America and the white in black America so clearly blended that he can tell us there is no white America. One of his best reviews is of Ross Lockridge's celebration of America in the mythic Raintree County. "The book, which had no core to begin with, becomes as amorphous as cotton candy under the drumming flows of words. . .words. . .Mr. Lockridge uses. . .as a kind of shimmering web, hiding everything with an insistent radiance and proving that, after all, everything is, or is going to be, all right. . Raintree County, according to its author, cannot be found on any map: and it is always summer there. He might also have added that no one lives there anymore." Here also are Baldwin's searing introduction of white America to Malcolm X and Harlem's black Muslims (The Fire Next Time) in which he finds black racism as misguided as the white devils it attacks; his shadowboxing with Norman Mailer; his attack on the protest novel, from Uncle Tom's Cabin to Native Son (which angered his friend Richard Wright) and marvelous deflation of, among others, Carmen Jones, Porgy and Bess and The Birth of a Nation for misrepresenting the black experience. Most moving of all is his autobiographical tour of his blackness No Name on the Street: "To be an Afro-American, or an American black, is to be in the situation, intolerably exaggerated, of all those who have never found themselves part of a civilization they could in no wise honorably defend—which they were compelled, indeed, endlessly to attack and condemn—and who yet spoke out of the most passionate love, hoping to make the kingdom new. . .

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1985

ISBN: 0312643063

Page Count: -

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1985

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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