CHRIS MOORE — Baldwin never wasted a word

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The job of a writer at the very core is to tell a story. A good writer will tell a story that makes one feel something. A great writer will tell a story that is so impactful it will force someone to act.

“You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world… The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even but a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” – James Baldwin

I would be remiss if Black History Month goes by without mentioning the writer who had the greatest impact on me even though he died three years before I was born. Baldwin had a way of taking a sentence and stripping away everything except what he needed. Every word was designed to evoke a feeling. That is often the case with those who write poetry.

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Baldwin was born in Harlem in 1924. From a young age, his teachers labeled him as gifted, and he wrote his first article for the school paper when he was 13.

In 1953, Baldwin published his first novel Go Tell It on the Mountain. Two years later, he published a series of essays titled Notes of a Native Son.

In 1956, Baldwin published Giovanni’s Room, which was met with controversy due to the homoerotic content. Baldwin, who was gay, often wrote about the struggles of both black and gay people in America.

My favorite piece of writing from Baldwin was The Fire Next Time. The book featured the essay Down at The Cross. The popularity of the writing landed Baldwin on the cover of Time Magazine. At the time, he was becoming a popular figure in the Civil Rights Movement, touring the south and giving lectures.

If you have some free time, go to YouTube and search for “James Baldwin debates Willaim F. Buckley.”

The clip is about an hour long but is a master class in debate and public speaking. Every word is well placed and the tones of anger, sadness and directness are pitch perfect. Buckley, who was a conservative author and commentator, was also renowned as a public intellectual. The debate takes place at Cambridge University with the topic of “Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?”

In 1965, Buckley and Baldwin were at their respective heights.

However, it was clear that the two ceilings were not close. After Baldwin gives his rebuttal, the crowd gives a standing ovation. The score at the end of the debate was 544-164 in favor of Baldwin’s argument.

Those who have a bit more time should watch the documentary titled I am Not Your Negro, which uses Baldwin’s writing and interviews to give a posthumous critique of 21st century America.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”


Chris Moore is the sports editor for Port Arthur Newsmedia. He can be reached at