Tales from The b.a.SKET: Black Art Sketches for the Contemporary Art Lover
By D. Amari Jackson
This week, we reach into the b.a.SKET and pull out two literary icons and one compelling image…
In 1983, upon a recommendation by a friend, Toni Morrison began reading Marie Cardinal’s The Words to Say It, a 1976 memoir first published in French that relays the author’s “descent into madness” before depicting her therapy and subsequent healing process. A white Frenchwoman raised in Algeria, Cardinal first identified the extent of her illness at a Louis Armstrong concert, a malady based in France’s violent and oppressive relationship with its former north African colony, who she considered “her black mother.” Morrison’s fascination with Cardinal’s work would ultimately lead to a 1990 series of lectures at Harvard University where she highlighted “the way black people ignite critical moments of discovery or change or emphasis in literature not written by them.” These lectures became Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, published in 1992 by Harvard University Press and capturing her critical focus on the construction of whiteness in American literature.
“What became transparent,” wrote Morrison, “were the self-evident ways that Americans choose to talk about themselves through and within a sometimes allegorical, sometimes metaphorical, but always choked representation of an Africanist presence.”
James Baldwin, Morrison’s good friend and fellow writer, had a literary imagination of his own, and his sharp and critical mind, tongue, and pen also made white people—particularly those fool enough to challenge his spellbinding words—choke. Like Morrison, Baldwin masterfully deconstructed the “Western Canon” and the skewed mentality that produced it, maintained it, and benefitted from it with such offerings as Nobody Knows My Name, The Fire Next Time, and The Price of the Ticket.
With his compelling piece, Baldwin Draped, internationally acclaimed artist, Charly Palmer, provides a poignant take on a young Baldwin draped in colorful fabrics that suggest an American flag, be it embracing him or confining him (or both). Palmer’s striking image is further weighted by the brilliant author’s critical and probing relationship with his home country.
In an ultimate tribute to her friend and literary inspiration, Morrison—easily one of the greatest writers of the 20th century of any race—eulogized Baldwin—easily one of the greatest writers of the 20th century of any race—with the following words at his December 8, 1987 funeral:
You knew, didn’t you, how I needed your language and the mind that formed it? How I relied on your fierce courage to tame wildernesses for me? How strengthened I was by the certainty that came from knowing you would never hurt me? You knew, didn’t you, how I loved your love? You knew. This then is no calamity. No, This is jubilee.
“Our crown,” you said, “has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do,” you said, “is wear it.”
And we do, Jimmy. You crowned us.
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Amari Jackson is a creator, author, TV/web/film producer, and award-winning journalist. He is author of the 2011 novel, The Savion Sequence; creator/writer/coproducer of the 2012-2014 web series The Book Look; writer/coproducer of the 2016 film Edge of the Pier; and current writer/coproducer of Listen Up! on HBCU GO/Roku TV. He is a former Chief of Staff for a NJ State Senator; a former VP of Communications & Development for the Jamestown Project at Harvard University; and a recipient of several writing fellowships including the George Washington Williams Fellowship from the Independent Press Association. An active ghost writer, song writer, martial artist, and journalist, his writings have appeared in a wide variety of national and regional publications.
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