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50-Jan-Feb-2011
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Uncollected Writings

A-The Cross of RedemptionJames Baldwin (1924–1987)--novelist, essayist, journalist, and recalcitrant public intellectual--blazed a trail through the Civil Rights era, arguing that racism is not so much a product of deep-rooted preconceptions as it is a larger symptom of a diseased civilization. Baldwin's most famous work has been anthologized in the Library of America's James Baldwin: Collected Essays (1998), edited by Toni Morrison.

The Topic: Although the letters, speeches, book reviews, forewords, and articles collected in this volume embrace various topics, Baldwin's singularly passionate focus on racism and his insistence that it is a moral as well as a political and social injustice serve as the filament uniting them all. Provocative and often deliberately unsettling, Baldwin's description of the African American experience provides a vital historical snapshot of Civil Rights-era race relations. The "Negro problem," asserts Baldwin, is essentially a white problem: "I have never been upset by the fact that I have a broad nose, big lips and kinky hair. You got upset. And now you must ask yourself why, I, for example, do not bring down property values when I move in. You bring them down when you move out."
Pantheon. 336 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780307378828

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"The essays compiled in The Cross of Redemption show that while Baldwin was committed to pulling back the curtain on the forces he felt were manipulating America's problems, he was also very serious about closing the gap between those in power and the disenfranchised. ... Randall Kenan, who edited the collection, is clearly a Baldwin fan--he wrote a biography about Baldwin in 1993 and, like Baldwin, he is also a black, gay male--but Kenan is not shy about pointing out how harsh Baldwin's tone could sometimes be." Stacie Williams

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Though it isn't laser-focused like his nonfiction masterworks, Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1961) and The Fire Next Time (1963), Baldwin's Cross burns with rage, smoothly, like a cocktail mixed perfectly, Manhattan or Molotov. ... Baldwin's trenchant voice, still contemporary 23 years after his death, reminds us: Our refusal to defend the rights of all citizens diminishes our humanity and degrades our democracy." Walton Muyumba

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"We're accustomed to seeing Baldwin in meta--a burnished expansive text that reflects his synthesized observations, voices, anecdotes. Consequently, this collection works as a sketch book--a sort of staging area of thought for the issues that rise to the top of his mind." Lynell George

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"As would be expected with such a wide range of material, there are variations in emotion and quality. ... 'Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare' alone makes The Cross of Redemption both worth it and essential." Paul Devlin

Baltimore Sun 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Editor Randall Kenan, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, calls the compendium ‘a collection of snapshots.' And the writings are haphazard. But these are snapshots in the best sense: glimpses deep inside a life lived daringly and fervently, if not always with politic attention to Baldwin's colleagues and compatriots." Laura Impellizzeri

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"While The Cross of Redemption is a nice companion to his more comprehensive 1985 nonfiction collection The Price of the Ticket, the selections don't reveal aspects of Baldwin's talent and thinking that aren't already well-established. Still, it's impossible not to marvel at the writing of the man who gave us 1963's disturbing and beautiful manifesto on race, The Fire Next Time." Tyrone Beason

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"At half the length, with articles arranged in straight chronological order and given generous endnotes, The Cross of Redemption might have been a book worthy of this prodigiously gifted, twin-headed writer. But the posthumous volume that those who value Baldwin are impatient to read is a fully annotated edition of his correspondence." James Campbell

Critical Summary

Despite being labeled as "bill-paying work" (Los Angeles Times), the items collected here provide an illuminating portrait of the writer and his times, but the fragmented nature of the material poses its own set of problems: several critics faulted these pieces as uneven, repetitive, and at times pompous and histrionic. Nevertheless, this wide-ranging collection underscores Baldwin's passion, intellect, and the moral force with which he lived his life. Baldwin's legacy is his writing, by which "we hit the jackpot--all of us--anyone interested in engaging in candid albeit stakes-changing debate, anyone who had an investment in equity, humanity and its future. We gained tremendously from the variegated prism through which he viewed and translated the world" (Los Angeles Times).