Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

A powerful new anthology aims to channel the spirit of James Baldwin’s sharp eye and sharper pen, turning them on current events from Trayvon Martin to Sandra Bland. In The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, Jesmyn Ward has collected 18 essays and poems by contemporary authors that bring Baldwin’s tradition to the present day.

Ward says she saw glimpses of acuity like Baldwin’s in social media posts but longed to bottle it up. “There were so many writers on Twitter who had such great ideas and really insightful things to say about what was happening,” she recalls. “Then after two days I didn’t have access to those ideas anymore just because of the way that particular social media platform is structured. I wondered where I could go in order to encounter that kind of thoughtfulness about race in America.”

Ward found that Baldwin’s words, despite the passage of time, still directly addressed much of what she was experiencing in the present. “He’s such a singular voice,” she explains. “I find myself turning to his work again and again…and I’m continuously surprised at his bravery and his fierceness.”

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