James Baldwin, one of America’s foremost authors, activists, and playwrights, who addressed the themes of race, the political promise and peril of America, and the human condition, is the muse of this issue of OHF Magazine. We planned that Baldwin would be the muse for this issue back in fall/winter 2019, unaware of how prescient his words would be or the challenges we would face in 2021.
Baldwin’s literary career spans more than three and a half decades, and his canon includes numerous novels, essays, short stories, plays, and interviews. To focus our message, we provided narrow but deep parameters for our writers to work within, and chose a single work as the common thread for our writers: “A Letter to My Nephew.” In the letter, Baldwin writes candidly and expresses frustration about racism in America. He writes of firsthand experience and as a witness to the ways racism has destroyed the lives of loved ones. He describes racism, not as some nebulous unknowable force hovering about the country, but almost as a crime, then names its perpetrators and unravels the rationale for their behavior. Baldwin’s indictment is not without remedy, and his remedy is as shocking and compassionate today as it was almost sixty years ago.
This issue’s writers are from various backgrounds and lived experiences and have written articles inspired by Baldwin’s letter. Emulating Baldwin, three writers chose to express their observations, fears, and hopes in the form of letters to their own beloveds. And in their own way, each addresses the promise and peril of America: one compares and contrasts the plight of today’s Black people with that of her ancestors, another addresses surviving and thriving despite today’s prejudices and rigors of living as a Black person in a predominantly white world, and the third points to a far more challenging path forward than the one her beloveds inherited by birth.
The other three writers chose to tell of the source material’s direct impact upon their own lives and the way they interpret the world, the ways they fit into that world, and the traps to avoid to mitigate and not perpetuate racism. The first expounds upon three concepts from Baldwin’s letter as applied to her life and how we all might benefit from the same. The second demonstrates how the truths revealed in Baldwin’s writing transcend time and differences that some would say at first blush divide us. And the third offers encouragement to those who would aid America and its citizens in reaching their potential.
So amidst the 380,000 deaths in America and two million deaths worldwide at the time of this writing, record unemployment, a bungled attempt to overthrow democracy, and the beginning of a new presidential administration, we offer you interpretations of James Baldwin’s wisdom from the past by people of different backgrounds and experience who live lives committed to justice, equality, and love as the proper means of moving into the future together in our human family.
Love one another,
OHF Magazine, Editor in Chief