It’s time to undo the MFA , or at least the spell I put on myself there, a spell, that has mercifully been broken by reading David Leeming’s biography of James Baldwin. I’ve admired Baldwin’s work since understanding that I wanted to write but have just recently read his first novel, Go Tell it On the Mountain. I’m spending much time in the biography reading about his struggle with this novel, which I’ve been finding comforting because, though I am no Baldwin, it’s helpful to see evidence that writing a first novel could be a challenge even for a writer of such mastery.
Leeming explains that after years of struggling with what would become Go Tell it On the Mountain he was stuck:
"He had a better idea of what it meant to be an American, even a black American, but he had still not come to grips with James Baldwin the individual, the man so desperate for the kind of personal acceptance and commitment he had sought in so many beds."
When I started my novel I was aware that I wanted to capture an issue that inspired me from my family (immediate and extended) growing up—of a life spiraling out of control, and also the fear of it, and the all or nothing prevention of it. I didn’t understand how to explore the source of that spiral, the depths, beyond plot points and into the soul and its reaction to society. I thought I could write something that felt like the way it feels when life spirals out of control, and that it was just a matter of a formula for making things happen. This is sentimentality.