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Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own.

Baldwin and Glaude, rereading Baldwin to arrive at Glaude’s writing and thinking today.

Eddie S. Glaude Jr.’s Begin Again is actually three books wrapped together. One is an analysis of James Baldwin’s writings, revisited decades after his death. Alongside these close textual readings is a memoir, where Glaude recollects his own experiences while tracing Baldwin’s growth as a writer. Finally, Begin Again confronts the first three years of the Donald J. Trump presidency and muses about what we might learn from Baldwin regarding our own troubled times.

A reader of Begin Again need not already be familiar with James Baldwin’s words. In fact, I would suggest reading Glaude’s book first and then revisiting Baldwin’s collected essays, his novels, and his poetry. Glaude introduces nuances that I surely missed when I read multiple Baldwin essays and novels many years ago. With Glaude’s guidance, a reader will come to understand the complicated patterns of thought that Baldwin, an expatriate who wrote from France, Switzerland, and Turkey, conveys about his Harlem youth, mid-twentieth-century American racism, and various contradictory elements within the American Civil Rights movement.

In some ways, Begin Again is a very conservative construct. Glaude’s explication of Baldwin’s ideas models academic reasoning at its best, tracing Baldwin’s philosophical as well as political development from one decade to another, always keeping an eye on Baldwin’s texts even as Glaude annotates and extrapolates and expands Baldwin’s ideas and ideals. More importantly, though, Begin Again is radical in its imaginings. “We have to build a different America,” Glaude insists, “we must take bold steps to change how we live and govern.” Using Baldwin’s assessment of America’s failures, Glaude speculates wisely about innovative future possibilities.

Glaude, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor at Princeton University, argues with passionate persuasion. I have heard Glaude speak countless times on Nicolle Wallace’s Deadline: White House on MSNBC. In fact, that’s why I bought Begin Again. I liked listening to his thoughtful but impassioned reasoning, so I assumed I would appreciate his book. In his role as a television panelist and literary critic turned cultural commentator, Claude demonstrates clear critical thinking of his own while urging his listeners and his readers to think beyond the parameters of what he is saying and writing. That’s the best part of Begin Again, the way Baldwin and Glaude together urge all Americans to move beyond the segregated thinking of the past four hundred years.

Glaude’s book is especially timely in view of the current conservative uproar over Critical Race Theory. As professors, we are taught to introduce our students to multiple points of view and compound modes of interpretation. Begin Again does so with grace and fervor, but also with an eye toward persuasion. Glaude, like Baldwin before him, bares his Christian roots and bares his soul about the future. Glaude, like Baldwin before him, wants his readers to recognize this “moment of moral reckoning,” to “find the courage to make the bold choices necessary for these after times.” Begin Again is not only timely; it’s important. We need to listen to “James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own.”  Ann Ronald

Also available by Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.: Exodus!: Religion, Race, and Nation in Early Nineteenth-Century Black America; In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America; African American Religion: A Very Short Introduction; Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul

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