My literary philosophy is a tree of opposing forces, grafted onto one trunk. Its fruit looks like none other in the forest. Always, my first emotion is to flee philosophical systems of thought and find freedom of expression. My literary philosophy is not to have a literary philosophy.
If I were to have a literary philosophy, it would have to lie outside the sum of all that has been done in the name of western art, philosophy, and religion. It would be one that is not based, no matter how cleverly disguised, on five hundred years of exploitation and domination. It would not be grounded in glass walls that disallow others freedoms to think freely, rhyme, dance, sing, laugh, fall, make mistakes, and have second chances.
If one does not want magic in words, take a picture with an I-phone, record the conversation on a micro-chip, and then write. I have no interest in pixilated images or narrative for the sake of narrative. My writing is a mixed media of fact and fiction, theories and myth, symbols and imagination free of pixil, premise, and plot. It is crafted toward a story that, when successful, colors both character and reader. If there is a twelve-step program to make this happen, I do not want to find it. If I had a literary philosophy, it would be as spirit migrating from one idea to another, flying to faraway theoretical places, touching land only for what is necessary for the creation of myth and magic.
Lawrence Baker’s Middle Passage is written in the tradition of western prose, in which a person reflects on influences and experiences in his life. Baker’s world involved cultural, intellectual and social expectations pressing hard against negative racial stereotypes and reality. He came of age in Jacksonville, Florida, in the 1960s, torn between relationships, school, the negative magnetism of the streets, and the impenetrable reticence of his mother, intent upon survival in her own unique manner. As a result, Baker left the south, seeking neither fame nor fortune, but a long absent father and educational opportunities. It was in Cleveland, Ohio, during the late 1960s that some degree of stability entered his life. There, with the aid of his father, he was able to pursue an education and become what he terms first “a man,” and eventually an artist. His odyssey involves encountering and overcoming various obstacles, none more daunting than the inertia of race, family and an inadequate early education.
This book not only asks plain questions about the connections between Baker’s complex inner life and art, but also probes the relationship between African-American social and cultural development and the purpose and role of art. Therefore, Baker’s life is the scaffolding, but the book does not stop with his thoughts and his experiences. It endeavors to show, through Baker, some of the underlying tensions between seeing and being seen, between what is and perhaps what should be.
Nominated for the Smithsonian's 2016 Charles C. Eldredge Prize for outstanding scholarship in the file of American art
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