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The Fire This Time

Combining elements of memoir and commentary, Kenan’s critical eye ranges from his childhood to the present to observe that, while there have been dramatic advances, some old issues have combined with new ones to bedevil us: “Nigger” has become a hip usage; the African-Americans that have finally attained prominent political positions are, more often than not, arch-conservatives; the Christian and Muslim religions so central to the civil rights movement have become more intolerant, while the stirring spiritual music that inspired it has been replaced by an aggressive form of hip-hop.

Starting with W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King, Jr., Kenan expands the discussion to include many of today’s most powerful personalities, such as Oprah Winfrey, O. J. Simpson, Clarence Thomas, Rodney King, Sean “Puffy” Combs, George Foreman, and Barack Obama.

Published to mark the forty-fifth anniversary of James Baldwin’s epochal work, this homage by novelist, essayist, and Baldwin biographer Kenan is itself a piercing consideration of the times, and an impassioned call to transcend them.

RANDALL KENAN is the author of the biography James Baldwin: American Writer and the collection of oral histories Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the 21st Century, as well as the novel A Visitation of Spirits and the short story collection Let the Dead Bury Their Dead. His work has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award, the Sherwood Anderson Award, the John Dos Passos Award, the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and numerous other prizes. He teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“What makes Kenan…so unusual is his willingness to look beyond the usual places.”The New York Times

“An inventive writer who shows great promise… Kenan continues Baldwin’s legendary tradition of ‘telling it on the mountain’ by giving a voice to the unvarnished truth about blacks.”The San Francisco Chronicle

“Kenan demands attention. He often seems to speak rather than to write: one feels more a listener than a reader, drawing a chair up to his fire.”The Observer

“Kenan [presents] a magnificent panoramic view of what it means to be human, filled with insight and wisdom and provocation, cause for hope and celebration.”The Times-Picayune

”A rousing wake-up call. He [has] a grasp of how blackness is glimpsed today, from the spectacle of ’the black male’ to the marketing triumph of hip-hop, to the age-old trickster figures such as Brer Rabbit whom he says point the way out of some of the most enduring quagmires: improvisation.”The Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)  

”A terrific homage to James Baldwin’s great essay.” The Boston Phoenix

”Insightful, taut, elegantly written … One cannot read this book without coming away with feelings of hope. We may continue to stumble at times in what Wynton Marsalis has called this dance we’ve been doing since the founding of the republic. But reading Randall Kenan, one knows somehow that the dance is worth each step.”The Herald-Sun (Durham, NC)

”The goal for Kenan is not to bridge the gap between then and now as much as to study its contours up close, its cracks and negatives spaces.”Los Angeles Times

”The book is unapologetically confrontational about the ways in which the Dream of racial equality continues to be elusive”News and Observer

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