Talk about synchronicity. When I decided that I was going to re-read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time for the Library’s Building Bridges Book Club , I already happened to be reading Henry Louis Gates’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man, a collection of profiles of prominent African-American men.
The first profile in Gates’ book is of James Baldwin, whose writing Gates fell in love with while in high school (Gates even got in trouble with his teacher for using too many commas in imitation of Baldwin’s architectural style) and whom he finally got to meet as an adult.
Baldwin had been so highly regarded as one of the voices of Black America in the early ‘60s that Time magazine featured Baldwin on its cover  when The Fire Next Time was published. But by the time Gates met him, Baldwin had been bypassed in favor of more radical voices.
Baldwin fell into the shadows in his later years because the time called for strong and strident voices, whereas he had always been very careful in his language and balanced in his thinking. For Baldwin, there were no easy answers – he’d likely do poorly in the current sound-byte political climate – and his style reflects that careful consideration and reflection on ideas.