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When I Was in College, I Began Collecting Paragraphs And...

By Shannawilson @shanna_wilson
When I was in college, I began collecting paragraphs and...

When I was in college, I began collecting paragraphs and writings and poetry and magazine clippings and artwork and thoughts in a small leather-bound journal I bought in Florence during my junior year abroad. It contains a lot of musings from the writers of the 20’s and 30’s and the 50’s and 60’s - it’s got Dean Moriarty and Baudelaire, and Malcolm Lowery and E.B. White all mixed up with my break-up scenes and interviewing for my first job in New York.

A bit that has always struck me, is from the late, undoubtedly great, Harlem writer James Baldwin from his essay, Nothing Personal. One part of it is:

For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth
is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind
down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them
because we are the only witnesses they have.

Baldwin wrote essays, novels, plays, and was a critic of all three. He dissected the racial and social class distinctions and prejudices of his time, and was a friend and colleague to Richard Wright, Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, MLK, Jean Paul Sarte, Elia Kazan and others of their ilk. He wrote a semi-autobiographical novel, Go Tell it On the Mountain, and countless volumes of essays. The most beautifully orchestrated excerpt of Nothing Personal that sticks with me, is:

People are defeated or go mad or die in many, many ways, some in the silence of that valley, where I couldn’t hear nobody pray and many in the public, sounding horror where no cry or lament or song or hope can disentangle itself from the roar. And so we go under, victims of that universal cruelty which lives in the heart and in the world, victims of the universal indifference to the fat of another, victims of the universal fear of love, proof of the absolute impossibility of achieving a life without love. One day, perhaps, unimaginable generations hence, we will evolve into the knowledge that human beings are more important than real estate and will permit this knowledge to become the ruling principle of our lives. For I do not for an instant doubt, and I will go to my grave believing that we can build Jerusalem if we will.


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