Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin

“After departure, only invisible things are left, perhaps the life of the world is held together by invisible chains of memory and loss and love. So many things, so many people, depart! And we can only repossess them in our minds.” A collection of short stories, among them my favorites – The Man Child, Sonny’s Blues, Come Out the Wilderness and Going to Meet the Man. James Baldwin’s pencraft, bold and unclenched, cuts across cultural, political, historical tangents. He expands upon the idea of individuality as fragile and eternally incomplete – and grants each of his characters such transparency that it’s hard to look away.

In his stories, he unlocks the gateway that leads one into anti-black racism in American society. In one of his stories, Going to Meet the Man, you read about a white deputy sheriff’s sexual perversions as he finds himself getting aroused after recalling one particular childhood memory of the lynching of a black man. Unfortunately, this story highlights the irrational, degrading, and apathetic climate of cruel history. And it is not fiction. This story is real and horrific in its telling. To read it through as the last story in the entire collection is a breathtaking experience.

Even though these are short stories, they’re not as ephemeral. They linger because they’re all fragments of the insidiousness of racism. Between the infallibility and reconciliation of human nature, James Baldwin wants us to look within ourselves before we walk out that door. Before we speak, before we act, before we kneel to this distorted filter of culture that denies an individual their selfhood. Through the lens of drug addiction, childhood memories, and sprouting sexuality, his characters examine parts of themselves that have been misplaced. Only to be able to look out on the world and find themselves in it.