Randall Kenan

The Fire This Time

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An homage to James Baldwin's seminal 1963 book looks at how far racial justice has progressed since then — and how it hasn't.

James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time was one of the essential books of the sixties, and one of the most galvanizing statements of the American civil rights movement.

Now, with a new generation of Americans confronting what Baldwin called our "racial nightmare," acclaimed writer Randall Kenan asks: How far have we come?

Combining elements of memoir and commentary, Kenan’s critical eye ranges from his childhood to the present to observe that, while there have been dramatic advances, some old issues have combined with new ones to bedevil us. From the language we use, the religions we look to for guidance, to our political affiliations, to the music we listen too. Kenan's frank personal essays expose the seams of what unites and what divides us. Starting with W. E. B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King, Jr., Kenan expands the discussion to include many of powerful contemporary Americans, such as Oprah Winfrey, O. J. Simpson, Clarence Thomas, Rodney King, Sean “Puffy” Combs, George Foreman, and Barack Obama.

Originally published to mark the forty-fifth anniversary of James Baldwin’s epochal work, this homage by novelist, essayist, and Baldwin biographer Kenan is itself a piercing consideration of the times, and an impassioned call to transcend them.