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Letters & Essays: 1990s

Letters & Essays of the Day

Letter from Lafayette Square

By Lawrence Jackson

One Sunday in February my mom telephones at eight in the morning to remind me that the bishop of Maryland is coming to Saint James at Lafayette Square, the African American Episcopal church where I was baptized and confirmed. There will be a single service at nine thirty. I debate the shower and then don the uniform that hangs on the back of the chair: pants and a sweater with a shirt inside it. My boy Nathaniel rises easily, despite having even less reason to be keen than I had at his age. In my high school class there were a dozen regulars; younger children were taught in the basement of the church, and the upper grades were instructed in a row house on Lafayette Avenue, on the border of Sandtown. Today, he is often the lone Sunday school student in his grade. Most of the time, he sits by my side for the service.

My younger son, Mitchell, remained with his mother in Georgia when I returned to Baltimore with Nathaniel after our divorce. Our new life is in a stone cottage in Homeland, one of the city’s prestige neighborhoods, which was carved out of the estate of a slaveholding family named Perine in 1922 by the Roland Park Company. Homeland’s quarter-acre lots and neo-Georgian houses were near the top of the market even before the company fortified the neighborhood with racially exclusive covenants. My son, studying at the Jesuit high school I attended thirty-five years ago at the dawn of racial integration for my family, lives near white classmates he has known since middle school, and is connected to extracurricular life in a way that I had half desired but had not imagined possible for myself. He casually accompanies young women who are not African American to weekend events, which often require being chauffeured from a pre-party to a dance, and even to an after-party in a hotel ballroom with a DJ and games involving glow sticks. And where in my experience tobacco, beer, and wine were always in a trunk or a pack, his cohort seems in loose confederation with every “mothers against” group.

Growing up with Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy

By Reuel K. Wilson

My earliest memories revolve around a handsome white house in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, built by a sea captain toward the middle of the nineteenth century. It rests midway down a low-lying rise called Money Hill. Perhaps money had once been buried there; in any event its illustrious owner, EW, never had enough of it-due to financially irresponsible habits that included not paying income taxes, the lavish use of taxis (he never learned to drive) and the long-distance telephone.

Postwar Paris: Chronicles of Literary Life

By Alice Adams

Two of the most distinguished American literary artists of their generation—their names as frequently invoked by critics and historians as they are seldom linked—appear here in a conversation that is mostly about being in Pans after the Second World War. The occasion giving rise to this conversation was a late September, 1996, University of Pennsylvania weekend observation of my retirement from the English faculty there. When friends Norman Malier and Richard Wilbur accepted invitations to attend, I suggested talking about this experience that both had often said was personally important, that neither had ever overtly visited in his works, and that happened to have a particular relevance to the Penn audience in that season.

On the Cover: Kenneth Noland

By Karen Wilkin

Kenneth Noland’s name is synonymous with a particular kind of American abstraction—one based on the potency of color, rooted in the belief that relationships of hues, like music, can directly and wordlessly stir our deepest emotional and intellectual reserves. Noland’s name stands, too, for pictures with lucid, near-geometric formats—images that ring changes on frontal, symmetrical, deceptively simple compositions, brought to life by seductive color. Probably the best known of these are the Circle paintings—unabashedly beautiful concentric rings of disembodied hues—with which he first announced himself as a painter to be reckoned with, four decades ago.

Selected Notes from Hampstead

By Elias Canetti

In 1980, the year before Elias Canetti was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, Susan Sontag wrote that the notebook was the perfect form for a writer like him-a man who was a student of everything rather than of anything in particular or “it allows entries of all lengths and shapes and degrees of impatience and roughness.” Canetti's published works are as various in their shapes as the entries in his notebooks. He originally intended his 1936 Auto-da-Fe to be the first in a series of eight novels, each examining a monomaniac whose madness typified a facet of the modern era.