The Gospel of James Baldwin: Musician Meshell Ndegeocello Rekindles the Fire of Truth for This Time

“You believe your pain and your heartbreak are extraordinary in the history of the world, however then you check out.”

By Maria Popova

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 connected me with all individuals who lived, who had actually ever lived.

Complement this small piece of Ndegeocellos marvelous Chapter and Verse with Anne Lamotts lovely letter to children about books as an antidote to seclusion and Baldwins excellent friend, champion, 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 known words of knowledge set to music by Ndegeocellos good friends and regular collaborators Morley and Chris Bruce.

The history of the world is the history of telling others who and what we are– from tribal markings to nationwide flags to family crests to pronoun-specifying email signatures. Every work of art that has ever been made has actually turned the battleground into a garden, where these exact same seeds of selfhood have come abloom in the artists being to touch with the pollen of some grander charm and some larger truth other beings, clarifying and fortifying their own identity, their own existence, their own belonging in history.

Artist and conceptual poet Meshell Ndegeocello reanimates Baldwins words from that entirely vivifying 1963 interview to weave around them a lush lyric meditation on the roots and truths of personhood in an enchanting prose-poem, part of her multimedia experience Chapter and Verse– a project she visualized as “a twenty-first-century ritual toolkit for justice, a require transformation, a present during turbulent times,” motivated by Baldwins prophetic 1963 book The Fire Next Time, which occasioned the LIFE homage.

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 actually dealt us and shaped similarly by the spiritual ancestors we have actually chosen for ourselves, all of our ancestors themselves shaped by myriad confluences of possibility and option. The mosaic rests atop the most elemental stratum of our nature, for as Rachel Carson observed, “our origins are of the earth … so there is in us a deeply seated action to the natural universe, which is part of our humanity.”