Beauford Delaney’s “Dark Rapture (James Baldwin),” from 1941. The portrait of the young writer is a highlight of a group exhibition at David Zwirner Gallery. Credit via Michael Rosenfeld Gallery and David Zwirner. Featured Image
I would have first seen that photo at some point in the early 1960s. Baldwin was African-American; I was a white kid in the process of working my way through the sociopolitical dynamics of all that through reading him. What I mainly saw in the photo, though, was a young man, slope-shouldered in a floppy sweater, looking warily self-contained, and emphatically un-butch. I could relate.
As a young person, I was a constant, precocious reader, as he had been — binging on Dickens at 11, Shakespeare at 12; that kind of thing. My wonkishness led me to make older friends; as a high school freshman I hung out with juniors and seniors, who would pass on literary contraband. And in, I think, 1962, one good friend, Nina Angelo, gave me a copy of Baldwin’s novel “Giovanni’s Room,” which had openly homosexual characters.