The eminent author, playwright, poet and social activist James Baldwin published a book named “The Fire Next Time” in 1963, which completely shifted the landscape of 1960s discussions on race relations. It dealt honestly, beautifully and personally with racial inequality, religion, love and the black experience at the time. I say at the time, but the parallels are sadly all too recognisable today.
Fifty-four years later, publishing house Taschen is releasing a letterpress edition of “The Fire Next Time”, accompanied by more than 100 stunning photographs of the civil rights movement. The book release coincides perfectly with the March 31 Brussels premiere of Raoul Peck’s documentary “I Am Not Your Negro”, based on an unfinished James Baldwin manuscript.
“The Fire Next Time” was met with critical acclaim when it first came out. It contains two essays, one that talks about the history of race in America in the form of a family letter and the other delving into the role and hypocrisy of the Christian church he grew up with in Harlem. In the 2017 limited edition reprint, Baldwin’s cutting words are set against historic images by Steve Schapiro, who went on a tour of the American South with James Baldwin for Life Magazine. Schapiro has photographed some of the most iconic moments in political history, as well as cinematic history (Taxi Driver, The Godfather etcetera). Pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, the March on Washington and Selma March are all included in this weighty – in every sense of the word – tome.
The fact that James Baldwin, a pioneer of literature on race, sexuality (Baldwin was openly gay and unafraid to write about queer relationships) and politics was so ahead of his time only means we get to look back and appreciate his work even more today. Nominated for ‘Best Documentary Feature’ at the Academy Awards this year was the universally acclaimed 2016 documentary “I Am Not Your Negro”, directed by Raoul Peck. RECOGNITION, the Brussels African and African diaspora art initiative that screened the Moonlight premiere last month, have partnered up with Millennium Documentary Film Festival and Cinema Galeries to show us this most important story on March 31. The film is based on an unfinished James Baldwin manuscript named “Remember This House”, which he described to his agent in 1979 via letter. It was supposed to be a personal telling of the lives and assassinations of his friends Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. When Baldwin passed away in ’87, he had only finished 30 pages. Peck worked over ten years to create his projection of the full project.
Raoul Peck, who grew up in Haiti under the dictatorial rule of Papa Doc, first read Baldwin at a young age and was immediately impacted. Baldwin showed him that distance can create insight and Baldwin’s personal experiences with authority and racism resonated deeply with Peck’s own encounters with injustice and abuse of power. The documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” draws from Baldwin’s notes, which Peck exclusively obtained from the late author’s estate, and explores the history of racism in the U.S. up until now through Baldwin’s words embodied by Samuel L. Jackson. It’s one of this year’s most important releases and it’s a wonderful thing that RECOGNITON keeps bringing these gems to us first. I for one just finished my first James Baldwin novel and I look forward to consuming so much more of his work. “I Am Not Your Negro” is a tremendous way to do just that.
Taschen’s “The Fire Next Time” will be available in 1963 Collector’s Edition copies (€200), honouring the original publishing date. 1813 copies of which will be numbered and signed by Steve Schapiro, and three Art Editions of 50 copies each with signed photographic gelatin silver prints by Steve Schapiro (€1,250). Pre-order here and here.
Listen to Marc Maron’s insightful interview on WTF with Raoul Peck here.