THE AMEN CORNER

With the exception of "The Man Child," a macabre, faintly Lawrentian study of repressed love between two white men in the rural South, all of Baldwin's tales here deal in one form or another with the Negro problem. Technically, a good portion of the work is crude and unconvincing. "Come Out the Wilderness" and "Previous Condition," for example, rest on slight themes: the first concerning a Negro girl's hapless involvement with an opportunistic white Village artist, and the second presenting the frustrations of a Negro actor when he is denied lodgings in a white neighborhood. "This Morning, This Evening, So Soon" is an ironic mood piece, a chronicle of a Negro expatriate in Paris: on the verge of fame and fearful of returning to the states, the singer discovers that his friend, a Tunisian outcast, is not above stealing from people of his own race. "Sonny's Blues" is an over-long, over-loud lament of a doomed jazz musician who becomes a junkie, ending on a muted moment of recognition between himself and his square brother. "The Rockpile" is a brief , bitter account of children blighted by Harlem family life. The title story is reminiscent of Baldwin's recent play Blues for Mr. Charlie; the white protagonistThe Amen Carner is a much better play than Blues for Mister Charlie, which was Baldwin at his agit-prop worst. Perhaps its superiority is due to the time of composition, right after Baldwin's best novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, with which it has a sibling relation. What we find in Baldwin's early work is an impassioned hurt and poignancy, a lyric openness to his terrible past and the impugned humanity of the Negro, which the headier, later confections like Another Country and the more pamphleteering pages of The Fire Next Time seem to have escalated into a pompous, all-purpose revanchist rhetoric. True, The Amen Corner is old-fashioned, even homey, theatrically speaking: but its central character, the store-front Harlem evangelist, Sister Margaret, a "fiery, fast-talking, little black woman," unexpectedly shattered by the return of a husband she never understood and the disaffection of a son she presumed to understand too well, is a beautiful, moving, and often heart-breaking creation, a figure of real yearnings and consequence rarely placed on the Broadway stage. Unfortunately, The Amen Corner was not a success when it was finally performed here a few seasons ago. Probably the gospel-singing atmosphere, the wonderfully modulated idiomatic speeches, and the genuine sentiments expressed alienated the vogue-hungry New York audiences. The loss is theirs., a deputy sheriff, is momentarily impotent until aroused by a terrible memory: as a boy, he witnessed, along with his gloating parents and other adults, the brutal castration and burning of an uppity Negro. All of these tales have an undeniable urgency, power and anger, yet only "The Outing" achieves true artistry, probably because it is the most personal and not melodramatic at all. Symphonic in structure, mixing religious and sexual motifs, encompassing various shades of characters and situations against the background of a boat trip up the Hudson, "The Outing" is memorable in every sense; funny, sad, colorful, it is a triumphant performance.

Pub Date: June 12, 1967

ISBN: 0375701885

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1967

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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