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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

James Baldwin email exchange

Dear Ed,

In the early 1980s, I had a small taste of "vigor...of JB's mode of living and working" in Jackson, MS. He was in the state to give a talk at Parchman and was in Jackson overnight, so I got assigned to be his driver. At 4:00 a.m. we were having a great conversation about film and how Pasolini crossed a forbidden line in the film Salo and the horrible mysteries of the Atlanta child murders and I am fit to fall through the table from our drinking. His mind was sparkling. He was so alive in the wee hours of morning. I simply could not match him as a nightowl. He was not ready to leave the club, but I managed to say "Mr. Baldwin, I must take you to your hotel now." He wasn't drunk. He was thinking, feeling through what Mississippi had been and still was.

I probably met Erskine Peters at some MLA convention, but I don't recall having had a conversation with him. But you are right. We should use every opportunity to ask people about the meaningfulness of their conversations with people who are famous. In most instances those conversations are very human, so unlike the public representations.

I finished reading Jiang Rong's Wolf Totem yesterday. When you have finished your Baldwin project, I suggest you read the novel. It is a beautiful allegory of the Chinese and ecological transgression.

Fondly,

Jerry

> Subject: Re: Visiting Hours at the Color Line
> From: ed.pavlic@gmail.com
> Date: Wed, 26 Sep 2012 00:13:39 -0400
> To: jerry.ward31@hotmail.com
>
> Hi Jerry,
>
> Yes, not as easy to step off stage as it appears!! Well, whatever you're doing seems like it's working. Was great to have a chance to chat in ATL.
>
> I know what you mean re: a bona fide moral witness vs. media cipher. Part of it is the dizzying media whirlwind of the late 20th/early 21st century. But, I agree, part of it is the rare depth, vigor (as opposed to rigor) of JB's mode of living and working. The far far off place he arrived from, the deep deep close up place he arrived to, and to and fro in ways (always different) only he could do for decades.
>
> Interesting that in 1971, he told Nikki G, "you use the word "morality," I'd say "energy".
>
> In 1955, he wrote, "At almost thirty-one, I'm not about to change, I'm only trying to develop." And develop he most certainly did, and, in a way, he never did change! Sounds simple. Not so.
>
> Finishing my chapter, "The Half Ain't Never Yet Been Told," (his phrase) on the 70s now. Interesting, he called himself "a kind of poet" throughout the decade. . .
>
> Did you ever know Erskine Peters? He spent time w JB in Berkeley. Interviews, etc. 1979. I met Erskine in the early 90s, and he was very very kind and beautiful w me. I wish I'd asked him about that time w JB.
>
> Anyway. Up here at the Du Bois Inst. Traveling w Jimmy, everyday. Should start the final chapter, "Hell Is Not Other People," (his phrase), 1980-86, by Oct. 1.
>
> Ok. More soon, Ed
>
>
>
> Sent from my iPhone
>
> On Sep 24, 2012, at 5:04 PM, Jerry Ward <jerry.ward31@hotmail.com> wrote:
>
> > Dear Ed,
> >
> > I returned from China in July and will be in New Orleans until next May, enjoying the blessings and pitfalls of retirement. "Retirement" is not an apt word, because I find myself working as hard at projects as I worked when I was teaching; moreover, I am teaching still when I am at Central China Normal University and in the USA by way of helping a small number of graduate students who have befriended me with "growing" their ideas. I foolishly thought when I stopped working at Dillard I would walk through a magic gate into leisure. Wrong. I walked through a portal of no return into work! But life is good when we are not annoyed by hurricanes!
> >
> > Thanks for sending me the good news. I look forward to the publication of the Baldwin letters, because reading them will help me to formulate ideas about what I am calling the "ethical turn" more specifically. From my very biased vantage, Baldwin was the last twentieth-century writer who had authentic moral authority. I had hoped that Cornel West would have become a strong moral voice for the twenty-first century. My hopes have been dashed by his transformation into an unreliable, ironic social critic. Thus, your making more words from Baldwin available is a godsend.
> >
> > Congratulations on winning a slot in the National Poetry Series. It would be truly wonderful if Natasha Trethewey invited you to read at the Library of Congress.
> >
> > Do stay in touch,
> >
> > Jerry
> >
> > Date: Wed, 19 Sep 2012 18:46:40 -0400
> > Subject: Visiting Hours at the Color Line
> > From: ed.pavlic@gmail.com
> > To: jerry.ward31@hotmail.com
> >
> > Hi Jerry,
> >
> > Hope all's well with you. Are you in China still?
> >
> > Am in Cambridge at work and nearing completion of the Baldwin letters book. Continues to amaze.
> >
> > Some good news, here. That ms of poems you saw, Visiting Hours at the Color Line, won a slot in the National Poetry Series for 2013. Very happy to have a route for that work into the world.
> >
> > Thanks for the support over the past year + !
> >
> > Send word when you have a moment.
> >
> > All the best, more soon, Ed

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