It goes without saying that James Baldwin was a legendary speaker—a preacher turned orator turned public intellectual who knew the power of words. But hearing him never ceases to shock. Very little can be added to this mesmerizing recording of Baldwin reading from his 1962 novel, Another Country. Answering a prompt for The New York Times Book Review about why his book had become so popular, Baldwin wrote,
I think I really helplessly model myself on jazz musicians and try to write the way they sound. I am not an intellectual, not in the dreary sense that word is used today, and do not want to be: I am aiming at what Henry James called “perception at the pitch of passion.”
In The New Yorker, Claudia Roth Pierpont observed that, despite Another Country’s best-seller status, “the language is stale compared with his earlier works—or compared with the burnished eloquence of his next book,” The Fire Next Time.
But hearing him read from it is not stale. He does what he needs to: brings it to life. You want it not to end. You want to hear him read the whole novel. You want to feel the passion and be reassured by the remove.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.