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Letters & Essays: 2010s

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.

Helen Frankenthaler and James Schuyler: A Correspondence

By Douglas Dreishpoon, Helen Frankenthaler & James Schuyler

In bohemian postwar Manhattan, poets (Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch) naturally gravitated to painters (Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan, Larry Rivers) whose work they appreciated on its own terms. Certain poets were lauded for their perceptive, unbiased eye; some painters instinctively sensed a resonant poem. Painter Helen Frankenthaler and poet James Schuyler had such a mutual appreciation. Their run-in during the 1954 Venice Biennale was memorable enough to open Schuyler’s poem “Torcello” (they must have met previously to have recognized each other, though it is unclear when). In any case, they kept circling: Schuyler reviewed Frankenthaler’s shows at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in 1957 and at the André Emmerich Gallery in 1960.

If You Are Permanently Lost

By Molly McCully Brown

I never have any idea where I am. I lived my whole childhood in the purple foothills of the same five-square-mile town and I still couldn’t tell you whether you turn left or right on the single thruway to get to the grade school or the grocery store, or how to find the houses of any of my childhood friends. I can’t tell you how to find the conspicuously modern angles of the apartment building in the small Mississippi town where I lived for three years in graduate school, or even easily direct you from my old house in Austin to the bright little bar where I wrote much of my first book. I never know how far I am from the airport or the highway. I can’t read a map effectively, and even though it’s less than half a mile from my current apartment in London, I couldn’t get to the Thames without the artificial voice on my cell phone—set to an Australian accent so its omnipresence is less tiresome—­calling out turn left every 250 feet. Half the time, to remember which way is left, I have to imagine for an instant that I am picking up a pen.

On New York City

By James Agee & Michael Lofaro

In 1939, with New York City playing host to the World’s Fair, Fortune magazine dedicated its July issue to commemorating the event. The issue would be divided into four sections: The People, They Govern Themselves, They Earn a Living, and What Is This City? The project required seventeen in-house writers and eight editors to capture the breadth of the city and its people, from Harlem to Wall Street, and the magazine turned also to a former staffer they regarded as their finest writer, James Agee. He was tasked with composing “tone poems” to introduce each section. In the end, Fortune editor Russell Davenport chose not to run the prose poems, or the foreword that Agee wrote to open the magazine.