James Baldwin model 2020 James Baldwin

One Writer’s Love Letters to the Forces That Shaped Him

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09 Ever since James Baldwin published “Letter From a Region of My Mind” (later retitled “My Dungeon Shook”) in 1962, the missive by a Black writer to a young relative (or, in Imani Perry’s case, to both her sons) has been used to reflect publicly on the state of race relations in this country.

The genre allows the writer to survey past indignities and reflect on ongoing troubles with the wisdom of lived experience. But the choice of correspondent also summons hope: that things can get better, that the next generation will realize more from this moment than the rest of us.

Randall Kenan’s letter to his godson begins this collection of his selected nonfiction, and it rings a different note. Other works like this — think of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Letter to My Son” — express the urgency of now, and their calls for accountability reverberate widely and immediately.

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