The Gospel of James Baldwin: Musician Meshell Ndegeocello Rekindles the Fire of Truth for a New Time that Was Once a Next Time

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you check out.”

By Maria Popova

Who and what we are is, obviously, a complicated mosaic with myriad tesserae, drawn from our genetic and cultural inheritance, formed by the biological ancestors chance has dealt us and shaped equally by the spiritual ancestors we have actually selected for ourselves, all of our forefathers themselves formed by myriad confluences of chance and choice. The mosaic rests atop the most essential stratum of our nature, for as Rachel Carson observed, “our origins are of the earth … so there remains in us a deeply seated reaction to the natural universe, which belongs to our humankind.”

The history of the world is the history of informing others who and what we are– from tribal markings to national flags to family crests to pronoun-specifying e-mail signatures. Every work of art that has ever been made has actually turned the battleground into a garden, where these very same seeds of selfhood have actually come abloom in the artists being to touch with the pollen of some grander charm and some bigger fact other beings, clarifying and strengthening their own identity, their own presence, their own belonging in history.

Enhance this small piece of Ndegeocellos magnificent Chapter and Verse with Anne Lamotts beautiful letter to children about books as a remedy to isolation and Baldwins great good friend, champ, and fellow genius Gwendolyn Brookss forgotten 1969 poem about the power of books, then review Baldwins own account of how he read his way from Harlem to the literary pantheon and some of his most poignant, least recognized words of wisdom set to music by Ndegeocellos pals and frequent collaborators Morley and Chris Bruce.

You think your pain and your heartbreak are extraordinary in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tortured me most were the really things that linked me with all individuals who were alive, who had actually ever been alive.

Musician and conceptual poet Meshell Ndegeocello reanimates Baldwins words from that altogether vivifying 1963 interview to weave around them a lavish lyric meditation on the roots and truths of personhood in a charming prose-poem, part of her multimedia experience Chapter and Verse– a project she imagined as “a twenty-first-century routine toolkit for justice, a require revolution, a present during rough times,” motivated by Baldwins prophetic 1963 book The Fire Next Time, which occasioned the LIFE homage.