In the latest installment of the Bookmarked series, a novelist and essayist offers personal essays examining themes of gender and race.
McLarin expands on her previous essay collection, Womanish, to once again offer cogent insights about identity, racism, sex and sexuality, family and education, reading and writing, and the “Black, Pentecostal, one-parent, southern existence” from which she emerged. Growing up, she felt like an outsider and found books to be “not so much an escape—there was no escape—as an expansion. They showed me other possibilities for living, even if all of those possibilities belonged to white people.” Baldwin proved to be a revelation about possibilities for Black lives, particularly his novel Another Country, which she cites as inspiration. “What Baldwin taught me,” she notes, “and what made me a writer” was “how to pay attention.” McLarin first came to think of herself “as a Black woman, first and foremost,” at Phillips Exeter Academy. After a childhood “immersed in a sea of Black women,” finding herself thrown into predominately White culture was debilitating. Her first year at Exeter, she admits, “was probably the closest I have ever come to hating myself.” She went to Duke and then followed “a natural progression from the lives I had led in boarding school and college” to live “a largely white life,” working as a journalist for papers where she was the only Black person in the newsroom, and marrying a White man. The author chronicles her struggle with depression, her effort to find a supportive community of Black women, and the development of her own writing voice. Throughout, Baldwin’s novel—as well as his interviews and other writings—serves her well as she pays attention to themes that roil her life, among them, “fear and love and innocence and masculinity and white supremacy and anti-blackness.” Baldwin, she writes admiringly, is “like jazz, complex yet easy to follow, deeply passionate, chillingly cool.”
Lucid, candid reflections on Black identity.