James Baldwin, Black America’s foremost public intellectual and one of its most brilliant writers will finally come home to Harlem.
The New York Times reports that Baldwin’s estate, which has since his 1987 death held tightly to hundreds of his correspondence, musings and notes, will come to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, just blocks from where the gay author and activist grew up and lived, learned and wrote.
The Schomburg, which houses more than 10 million objects pertaining to Black culture, announced the news on Wednesday night.
“Even though it’s taken 30 years, it’s the perfect time,” said Kevin Young, who became the director of the Schomburg in December. “It’s like he never left.”
Yet, many of his personal letters will remain off limits for another generation. The Times reports:
Baldwin’s correspondence with four of his closest intimates is under 20-year seal, part of a set of restrictions that suggest that his famously protective estate is not quite ready for the world to see the private Baldwin in full. Those confidants include Baldwin’s brother David and three lifelong friends, among them Lucien Happersberger, a bisexual Swiss painter Baldwin once called “the one true love story of my life.”
Other limitations include a seven-year waiting period on any public display of all but a handful of items including
In addition to typescripts of his teenage poetry to handwritten drafts of “The Welcome Table,” his final, unfinished play about an imaginary dinner party featuring an ex-Black Panther; a professor and a Josephine Baker-like dancer. (The Times says it was inspired by visits Baker made to Baldwin’s house in the South of France, where he spent the last decades of his life.)
There are also letters from luminaries including Lorraine Hansberry, Nina Simone, Bobby Seale and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
There are also character notes for his novel “Just Above My Head” (1979), scrawled on a card for a jazz club; a draft of an unproduced screenplay about Malcolm X written out longhand; iand an unpublished 1978 note recalling the day 10 years earlier when he had learned that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated.
“Ten years! The mind and the heart refuse that knowledge,” Baldwin wrote. “I really feel, as I write this now, the same, unbelieving wonder, the same shocked and helpless rage.”
As for the restrictions at the Schomburg, Young emphasized that a vast majority of the collection was open for on-site research, and that the rest would be available “in due time.”
“I take the long view,” he said. “Archives move by decades and generations. We’re here to keep it forever.”
Eight preapproved items from the collection will be on view through Monday, in a small pop-up exhibition at the Schomburg.
SOURCE: New York Times
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