A unanimous sigh of relief went up from James Baldwin’s friends when be returned to New York after nearly nine years in France. They had feared he was drifting into permanent exile like Richard Wright. Exile had been disastrous for Wright’s talent as a writer, but it might have been even worse for Baldwin’s. His work depends for much of its passion on his intense love-hate relationship with his native city, and in cutting himself off from it he might have lost his subject, or possibly even himself. He had come back, but nobody was quite sure why. He had certainly not returned because of any nostalgia for the skyscrapers. “Don’t forget this city has tried to kill me,” he said reprovingly when I suggested it must be love of New York that had really brought him back. We were walking along Third Avenue in the evening, and he talked as if the darkened skyscrapers were leaning threateningly towards him. They must have looked that way when he was a poor boy in Harlem growing up in the worst of the Depression, but he had come back a best-selling author and the pressures on him should have relaxed. They […]

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