Mitchell S. Jackson on James Baldwin.

While serving a 16-month prison sentence for drug charges, Jackson began to write some things down. When he was released, he brought around 70 pages home with him. Today, 15 years later, those pages can now be seen as the important seeds of The Residue Years (Bloomsbury), Jackson’s critically-acclaimed first novel, a fictionalized version of his life growing up in the tougher parts of Portland, Oregon.

Even if Jackson was not a reader early on, he later drew inspiration from a wide range of writers, most pointedly from James Baldwin, particularly his essay Fifth Avenue, Uptown (a portrait of race and Harlem in the ’60s and the inspiration for the photo shoot). “The novel that got me started was Go Tell It on the Mountain,” he says. “Baldwin was one of the few writers of color that were let into the canon, and refused to be marginalized, because if you wind up marginalized and no one pays attention to you, then who cares?” Although Baldwin was an expat who left America for Paris, he never forgot what being black in America felt like and always returned to the experience in his writing. Distancing himself helped Baldwin see America more clearly, and Jackson feels the same about coming to New York to get a better understanding of his past in Portland.

More at The Aesthete.

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