Baldwin explains how his paranoid and angered father died of tuberculosis when he himself was 19 years old. Prior to that Baldwin had been taken to the theater by a white teacher of his, and his parents had let him go because she was a teacher. Later he worked in New Jersey and was often turned down in segregated places—once he hurled a cup half full of water at a waitress in a diner. He goes on to say that blacks doing the military service in the South often got abused. Finally, he recounts his father's death which occurred just before his mother gave birth to one of his sisters; his father's funeral was on his 19th birthday and the Harlem Riot of 1943 . This essay is an attempt to do away with the hatred and despair he feels towards his father.
While his literary fame faded somewhat in his later years, Baldwin continued to produce new works in a variety of forms. He published a collection of poems, Jimmy's Blues: Selected Poems , in 1983 as well as the 1987 novel Harlem Quartet . Baldwin also remained an astute observer of race and American culture. In 1985, he wrote The Evidence of Things Not Seen about the Atlanta child murders. Baldwin also spent years sharing his experiences and views as a college professor. In the years before his death, he taught at University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Hampshire College.
A few years later at a party for Baldwin after he read his blues poems at the 92nd Street Y, I, drunk, asked—yes, asked—if he’d seen that review. He graciously said no and I’m afraid I can’t pretend that I did not in a seizure of self-importance rehearse some of my arguments against his book right there, in the middle of a cocktail party for him, this adored figure. His smile was all forbearance and understanding. He had my number. Then I was alone in the bedroom of Grace Schulman, the head of the Y’s poetry reading series. I heard a guy coming, Baldwin’s secretary, and simply stepped into Grace’s closet. Baldwin’s secretary sat on the bed and picked up the white phone. It was too late to say I was there, hiding among dresses with organdy sleeves. Minutes went by and after the secretary put out his cigarette, I went off into the unsteady dark.