Friday, August 02, 2019

Happy Birthday, James Baldwin and Isabelle Allende

James Baldwin
It's a double-birthday celebration today for two very different authors, James Baldwin and Isabelle Allende. 

In recognition of Baldwin's birthday, this morning I pulled a compilation of his essays called Nobody Knows My Name from my shelves and read one from 1956 titled "Faulkner and Desegregation."  William Faulkner gave a drunken interview in 1956 in which he counseled black Southerners to "go slow" when it came to pushing for desegregation if they did not want to risk losing the support of more moderate Southerners like him. Faulkner claimed that Southerners were soon enough going to recognize how "silly" their social structure looked to the rest of the world, and that they would change it on their own - without undue pressure from the Supreme Court. 

In "Faulkner and Desegregation," Baldwin takes Faulkner to task for his remarks and exposes the ludicrousness of his advice. He was particularly offended by Faulkner's choice of the word "silly" to describe the culture in which Southern blacks were living. Baldwin closes the essay with some strong words of his own:
"But the time Faulkner asks for does not exist - and he is not the only Southerner who knows it. There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now."
James Baldwin was born ninety-five years ago on August 2, 1924 in Manhattan and he died of stomach cancer on December 1, 1987 in France at age 63.  He was the author of numerous novels, essay collections, short stories, plays, and poems, including one of my very favorite short stories, "Sonny's Blues."  

Isabelle Allende
Isabelle Allende was born in Lima, Peru on August 2, 1942 and turns 77 today. Her father, at the time of Allende's birth, was second secretary at the Chilean embassy there, and Allende now holds American-Chilean citizenship. Her father was a first cousin to Salvador Allende, one-time Marxist president of Chile. Although the critics have not always been kind to Allende, she has won awards almost too numerous to count, including in 2018 the National Book Award called the Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Her work has been translated into 30 languages and has sold more than 56 million copies.

Over the years, I have particularly enjoyed Allende's two memoirs, My Invented Country and The Sum of Our Days because she has lived an interesting life, and has managed to reinvent herself more than once.  But my overall favorite of her books is probably 2015's The Japanese Lover, and I'm pleased to own a signed copy of that one. Of Allende's twenty works of fiction, twelve of them have been published since 2000, including this year's Long Petal of the Sea. 

So let's wish a happy birthday to James Baldwin and Isabell Allende, two of the best. 

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