‘Sonny’s Blues’ by James Baldwin

I love Baldwin’s novels and don’t really think of him as a story writer. Indeed this long story, to my mind, serves the point: he is better in the longer form. But I like what he does in this story and was keen to represent his work in any selection of writing. Here as elsewhere he creates a community, and reveals its pains and sadnesses, its hopes, passions and ambitions. I love that Baldwin is unafraid to reveal such heights and depths. So much is unpacked in the story and though it might begin to feel unwieldy in the weight it bears in conveying too much familial and personal history of Sonny and his addiction, by flashbacks Baldwin manages to steer on the story, with the triumph of a musical skill coming to the fore. There is such a density of character and place with Baldwin, he can be endlessly re-read.

First published in The Partisan Review, 1957. Collected in Going to Meet The Man, Dial Press, 1965, which was published as a Penguin Modern Classic in 1991. The story was also published as a Penguin 60 in 1995

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