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  • Writer's pictureArchuleta A. Chisolm

A Forgotten Conversation

In 1971, James Baldwin sat down with Nikki Giovanni in London for a deep conversation that lasted hours. At the time, Baldwin was 46 years old and Giovanni 28 years old. The poets explored justice, freedom, morality, and what it means to be an empowered human being.

You may have seen this video floating around on social media. Their conversation had presence, intellect, and occasional disagreement, highlighting their perspectives, in both their gendered and generational experience. It also happens to contain the best thinking on the current racial problems in the United States, even though it took place over 40 years ago.

As a poet, sometimes you need to be reminded of why you write in the first place. Over the years, I hear artists, including myself, question the value of creating art in a time that is so prevalent with real suffering.

My reason for carrying on revolves around what I consider the basic value of good writing, as well as the doors art opens. Even if just for a while, we experience a more present way of operating in the world.

In the following excerpt, James Baldwin eloquently discusses something similar:

“The very first thing a writer has to face is that he cannot be told what to write. You know, nobody asked me to be a writer; I chose it. Well, since I’m a man I have to assume I chose it; perhaps in fact, I didn’t choose it. But in any case, the one thing you have to do is try to tell the truth. And what everyone overlooks is that in order to do it – when the book comes out it may hurt you – but in order for me to do it, it had to hurt me first. I can only tell you about yourself as much as I can face about myself. And this has happened to everybody who’s tried to live. You go through life for a long time thinking, no one has ever suffered the way I’ve suffered, my God, my God. And then you realize – you read something or you hear something, and you realize that your suffering does not isolate you; your suffering is your bridge. Many people have suffered before you, many people are suffering around you and always will, and all you can do is bring, hopefully, a little light into that suffering. Enough light so that the person who is suffering can begin to comprehend his suffering and begin to live with it and begin to change it, change the situation. We don’t change anything; all we can do is invest people with the morale to change it for themselves.”

To watch the full conversation between James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni, click here.

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