Writing the book “Begin Again”: “A year went by and I hadn’t written a sentence.”

From a New York Times Book Review “Inside the List” interview by Elizabeth Egan of author Eddie S. Glaude Jr.”:

Eddie S. Glaude Jr. says he first envisioned “Begin Again,” now at No. 5 on the hardcover nonfiction list, as an intellectual biography of James Baldwin: “But then I ran into this wall. A year went by and I hadn’t written a sentence.”

While on sabbatical from Princeton University, where he is a professor of African-American studies, Glaude rented an apartment in St. Thomas, figuring: “If I’m going to write a book on Baldwin, I need to be out of the country. Baldwin said the best way to think about America is not to be in America.” Hurricane Maria interfered with this plan, so Glaude headed to Heidelberg, Germany. Within an hour of his arrival, he witnessed a horrific scene at a train station that changed the trajectory of his book: Four white policemen piled on top of a distraught Black man. . . .

In a phone interview, Glaude says: “I went back to my apartment and started writing furiously. I realized what I needed to do. I needed to work through my own rage, my own despair, and offer an account of this moment.”

That account — weaving biography, literary criticism and social criticism with a thread of memoir — was originally scheduled to come out on April 24. Then the pandemic hit and Glaude’s publication date was moved to Aug. 4; after George Floyd’s murder, it changed again, to June 30. Glaude says: “We thought the book spoke to the moment.”. . .

Glaude was an undergraduate at Morehouse College when he first read Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time.”. . . Baldwin’s outspokenness helped Glaude become a more ambitious writer: “In order for me to be able to take a risk on the page, I had to be honest with myself. I found myself grappling with my own complex past. Part of that involves confronting the fact that my father deposited fear in my gut from a very young age; I’ve been trying to prove that I’m not scared ever since. . . .”

Elisabeth Egan is an editor at the Book Review and the author of “A Window Opens.”

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