Listening to Adam Lazzare-White read James Baldwin’s Go Tell it On the Mountain, is as close to being in a Black Pentecostal church as most of us are likely to ever get.  His voice, following and burnishing the rolling biblical lines of Baldwin’s prose, lifts to the incantatory.  Listening to the closing moments,  I could feel myself being saved, testifying, bearing the weight of revelation. Even reading the text of the closing pages, without a great reader’s help,  can bring on such a feeling,  as Edwidge Danticat says in her February 26, 2016 “New Yorker” piece.

“Baldwin … does such a great job capturing what it’s like to be enraptured that I always find myself trembling a little while reading.”

This was Baldwin’s first novel, ” a rite of exorcism” as it has been called, of his own young life, a father’s cruelty and piety, a community’s warmth and intimidating grip.   Though it is about the religious-sexual experience of a youngster, I could also imagine Baldwin’s own, later experience of being “saved” as a writer. The sense of being overcome, the feeling the burden and solace of “being called” are surely the same.

The 1984 film of the same name, directed by Stan Lathan (a prolific director for television), is almost able to follow the contours and revelations of the family mysteries, as the novel itself, which sometimes confusing even in Baldwin’s talented hands.   Though the novel begins and ends on one day, the day John is saved and also his birthday,the central part introduces, through chapters designated as “prayers” the three major characters –Florence, Gabriel and Elizabeth.  We get the back story, the family saga and why what is happening in Harlem in the 1930s is happening, how the people got there and what their entanglements and obligations are.  The film uses flashbacks to give a similar sense of discovery and history. Continue reading »

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