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Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own (Hardcover)
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James Baldwin grew disillusioned by the failure of the civil rights movement to force America to confront its lies about race. In the era of Trump, what can we learn from his struggle?
“Searing, provocative, and ultimately hopeful . . . Begin Again challenges, illuminates, and points us toward if not a more perfect union then at least a more just one.”—Jon Meacham
We live, according to Eddie S. Glaude Jr., in the after times, when the promise of Black Lives Matter and the attempt to achieve a new America were challenged by the election of Donald Trump, a racist president whose victory represents yet another failure of America to face the lies it tells itself about race.
We have been here before: For James Baldwin, the after times came in the wake of the civil rights movement, when a similar attempt to compel a national confrontation with the truth was answered with the murders of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. In these years, spanning from the publication of The Fire Next Time in 1963 to that of No Name in the Street in 1972, Baldwin transformed into a more overtly political writer, a change that came at great professional and personal cost. But from that journey, Baldwin emerged with a sense of renewed purpose about the necessity of pushing forward in the face of disillusionment and despair.
In the story of Baldwin’s crucible, Glaude suggests, we can find hope and guidance through our own after times, this Trumpian era of shattered promises and white retrenchment. Mixing biography—drawn partially from newly uncovered interviews—with history, memoir, and trenchant analysis of our current moment, Begin Again is Glaude’s endeavor, following Baldwin, to bear witness to the difficult truth of race in America today. It is at once a searing exploration that lays bare the tangled web of race, trauma, and memory, and a powerful interrogation of what we all must ask of ourselves in order to call forth a new America.
Advance praise for Begin Again
“A penetrating study of how the words of James Baldwin continue to have (often painful) relevance today. . . . In prose that is eloquent and impassioned—sometimes hopeful, sometimes not—the author presses his fingers on our bruises, the ones many of us would prefer to ignore. . . . Baldwin's genius glimmers throughout as Glaude effectively demonstrates how truth does not die with the one who spoke it.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
About the Author
Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor at Princeton University and author of Democracy in Black.
“In this powerful and elegant book on James Baldwin, Eddie Glaude weaves together a biography, a meditation, a literary analysis, and a moral essay on America. Like Baldwin’s own essays and books, it is at times both loving and angry, challenging and uplifting, and always beautiful. Both Baldwin and this book speak directly to today.”—Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci
“Begin Again is an unparalleled masterpiece of social criticism. Glaude thinks alongside America’s finest essayist, matching the master’s firepower, brilliance, courage, and sensitivity at every turn. He pushes, prods and disrobes history, forcing us to face uncomfortable truths and insisting upon our better inheritances. Glaude’s stunningly crafted prose—incisive, vulnerable, and beautiful—is as breathtaking as his brilliance. This book is precisely the witness we need for our treacherous times.”—Imani Perry, author of Breathe and Looking for Lorraine
“In this searing, provocative, and ultimately hopeful book, Eddie Glaude, Jr., takes us on a fascinating journey through the mind and heart of James Baldwin. But a parallel odyssey through Glaude’s own formidable mind and generous heart unfolds as well—an odyssey that tells us much about the way we live now and how we might come to live if we could, to borrow a phrase of Lincoln’s, think anew and act anew. One need not agree with everything in these pages to learn much from them, and for Americans seeking to understand our past, our present, and the possible futures before us, Begin Again challenges, illuminates, and points us toward, if not a more perfect union, at least a more just one.”—Jon Meacham, author of The Soul of America and Destiny and Power
“In the marrow of Eddie Glaude’s Begin Again is a rugged literary miracle. In evocative prose, Glaude showed me how we might use the unexceptional yet brutal nightmare of Trumpism to not simply better understand the work and life of James Baldwin, but how that discovery must also lead us as people, not simply as a nation, to ‘begin again’ and walk collectively toward actual liberation.”—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
“In the midst of an ugly Trump regime and a beautiful Baldwin revival, Eddie Glaude has plunged to the profound depths and sublime heights of Baldwin’s prophetic challenge to our present-day crisis. This book is, undoubtedly, the best treatment we have of Baldwin’s genius and relevance. Glaude’s masterpiece puts a smile on Baldwin’s face from the grave even as Baldwin weeps for us in this grim moment! With subtle brilliance and heartfelt tears, Glaude breaks bread with Baldwin in order to give us courage and hope!”—Cornel West, author of Democracy Matters and Race Matters
“Eddie Glaude is such a terrific writer. In Begin Again, as he wrestles with James Baldwin’s work and fraught relationship to the United States, Glaude’s work is urgent, pained, and strangely hopeful. He is issuing a call to reckoning: not just with the dishonesty of America's founding promises, but with the tolls that its intrinsic racism has taken on the artists and thinkers who have come before. Glaude reminds readers of the inescapability of struggle and of the responsibility of consciousness, making explicit how our history underpins our current political moment. It's a great book.”—Rebecca Traister, author of and Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger
“How often, amid the ongoing violence and division of our current chapter of American history, have I been made to recall not only the piercing brilliance of James Baldwin, but also his discomfiting prescience? ‘An old world is dying,’ he wrote in No Name in the Street, ‘and a new one, kicking in the belly of its mother, time, announces that it is ready to be born.’ The magic of Begin Again is that it allows us to ponder Baldwin both in his perilous era and in our own. Remarkable, and remarkably relevant.”—Tracy K. Smith, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Life on Mars
“Begin Again is a magnificent book filled with the type of passion, lyricism, and fire that James Baldwin commands and deserves. Eddie Glaude Jr. takes us on a unique and illuminating journey through Baldwin’s life and writings by both physically and philosophically following in his footsteps. In this phenomenal work, we are treated to a timeless and spellbinding conversation between two brilliant writers, thinkers, and active witnesses, addressing issues—past, present, and future—that are necessary, urgent, and vital for our survival.”—Edwidge Danticat, author of Brother, I’m Dying and Everything Inside