Albert Camus said that to create is to live twice and, in the case of James Baldwin, this is especially evident in 2019. Why, do you ask, has Baldwin’s fiction recently been adapted into an Academy Award nominated film by Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk) while his life has inspired the art exhibition God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin curated by Hilton Als at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York City (along with accompanying film screenings). The 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro (based on Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House) was a runaway success and it seems that our appetites are barely whetted for more.
Written by Hilton Als and originally published in The New Yorker:
I am writing this a day after my favorite sister’s birthday. She was very dear to me. She would have been sixty-nine this fall. She died two years ago, another casualty of M.S. and poor-black-girl-in-America life. My sister’s absence became even more pronounced for me when the poet, playwright, and author Ntozake Shange died on October 27th. Shange was just seventy when she passed and had been living in an assisted-care facility in Maryland. When my sister died, she had been living in an assisted-care facility in Brooklyn. My sister’s birthday, Shange’s death—each consumed me and left me sitting in the middle of a kind of loneliness which I do not want to bear but had to bear, because I wanted to tell you something about these women, their strengths and weaknesses, and the profound effect that each had on my life and my consciousness, as a writer and a feminist.