I had never really thought of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (1963) as a queer text before—at least not in any deeper sense than that it was a book written by an author who wrote about queer themes and who himself had both male and female partners. But by putting Fire alongside Between the World and Me, the new book by Ta-Nehisi Coates, I was struck by the significance of the fact that Baldwin’s book is addressed to his nephew and Coates’s is addressed to his son.
One of the more tedious aspects of the reception of Coates’s Between the World and Me has been the incessant comparisons made between Coates and Baldwin, with various personalities weighing in essentially to say “Coates is no Baldwin.” But as Robert argued forcefully last week, that kind of fatuous evaluative reflex—Robert compared it to the Kobe-MJ arguments—hollows out what could be a very productive comparison, one that sheds light in either direction, helping us understand both Baldwin and Coates more deeply. That is what I hope to do here. Continue reading