Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award

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James Baldwin on society and education

To celebrate Black History Month here on Liquid Ink, I’m quoting from black American intellectuals every day until March. These quotes are all deeply meaningful to me.

Yesterday’s was from Frederick Douglass. Today it’s James Baldwin, taken from his Talk to the Teachers, delivered in 1963.

It would seem to me that when a child is born, if I’m the child’s parent, it is my obligation and my high duty to civilize that child. Man is a social animal. He cannot exist without a society. A society, in turn, depends on certain things which everyone within that society takes for granted. Now the crucial paradox which confronts us here is that the whole process of education occurs within a social framework and is designed to perpetuate the aims of society. Thus, for example, the boys and girls who were born during the era of the Third Reich, when educated to the purposes of the Third Reich, became barbarians. The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.


Photo of James Baldwin from Wikipedia.

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Reading in Cambridge February 5

This Friday, I’ll be participating in the Dire Literary Series in Cambridge, MA. Joining me are writers Jen Grow, winner of the Dzanc Books Short Story Collection Competition for My Life as a Mermaid, and Kathy Flann, winner of the 2014 George Garret Fiction Prize (her collection, Get a Grip, has a story about Estonians.).

If you’re in the Boston area (and you New Yorkers are only a cheap Chinatown bus ride away), it would be great to see you at the reading. I haven’t been to Cambridge since the spring of 2000, so I’m really looking forward to this trip.

It’s going to be an adventure reminiscent of my backpacking days. I’m flying in, giving the reading, then taking the red eye out of Boston Saturday morning to relieve a babysitter. My shelter on Friday night will most likely be Logan airport. Just like the good old days!

This reading series is interesting because it starts out as an open mic, then the “featured readers” take over in the 2nd half. The signup is at 6:00.

Dire Reading Series, Feb 5, 7:00, 541 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA


Photo from Dire.