From our friend Marella Consolini:
I recently read an interview with James Baldwin in a 1984 Paris Review. To me, fascinating under any circumstance, but of course thought of you because of his mention of a deep and personal leap. Details:
Was there an instant you knew you were going to write, to be a writer rather than anything else?
BALDWIN: Yes. The death of my father. Until my father died I thought I could do something else. I had wanted to be a musician, thought of being a painter, thought of being an actor. This was all before I was nineteen. Given the conditions in this country to be a black writer was impossible. When I was young, people thought you were not so much wicked as sick, they gave up on you. My father didn’t think it was possible—he thought I’d get killed, get murdered. He said I was contesting the white man’s definitions, which was quite right. But I had also learned from my father what he thought of the white man’s definitions. He was a pious, very religious and in some ways a very beautiful man, and in some ways a terrible man. He died when his last child was born and I realized I had to make a jump—a leap. I’d been a preacher for three years, from age fourteen to seventeen. Those were three years which probably turned me to writing.
What was the impetus for YOUR greatest leaps? What are you contemplating NOW?
“James Baldwin , Harlem, New York, 1945” with thanks to the Avedon Foundation
4 replies on “James Baldwin on Making a Leap”
I moved to rural Mexico with my husband eight years ago. We sold everything that didn’t fit in 4 suitcases. I had never been there and didn’t speak Spanish.
We went flat broke, but we’re still there on 17 of the most beautiful acres on earth, living an often difficult but blessed life.
That is one fearless LEAP. I’d like to hear more of the thinking on that decision. “Difficult but blessed life”. Beautiful!
The impetus for writing what became my memoir was fear. Fear of forgetting. But after working through the fear I was happy to discover the hidden joy buried inside of forgetting, namely being able to let go. Now I let the page do the remembering for me and allow myself to be free of past burdens. It’s wonderful.
What am I contemplating now? An even larger writing project. It would be far less personal than a memoir but no less terrifying: employing my creativity and doing so in a public forum. You had a post here a while back about how sometimes fear can point you in the right direction, that maybe if you’re afraid of something it’s because it’s important, and that you should charge forward instead of running away. Tough advice but something I think of often, so thank you.
Fear as fuel and impetus. Really interesting. Good for you for using it, and turning it into something illuminating: a complete transformation. Writing is often a leap (I do it daily (: ), but I find the main thing it involves is just doing it, sitting your butt in the chair no matter what, until you’ve got something. It’s a practice.