April 1, 2006


Native Sons
James Baldwin and Sol Stein
Playwrights, Lyricists, Composers on Theater
Edited by Otis L. Guernsey Jr.

Dear Old Friends – Stumbling across a good used bookstore, like Ravenswood Books on Lincoln Avenue, and finding an engaging read, like Playwrights, Lyricists, Composers on Theater, is like running into a dear old friend. The pleasure of just sitting together for a long stretch, confessing and catching up, is invigorating. In Playwrights, the old friends include the Who’s Who from American theater in the 1960s and early 1970s: Marc Connelly, John Guare, Jules Feiffer, Neil Simon, Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers, John Kander, Lillian Hellman, Paddy Chayefsky, Arthur Laurents, Arthur Miller, Clive Barnes, Edward Albee, Jean Kerr (who steals the show) and others. Their conversations and reflections are informative and entertaining, always illuminating. In Native Sons, which I unearthed at Second Story Books in Washington, D.C., the old friends are James Baldwin and his longtime editor, Sol Stein. Here, the conversations are more intimate. In one early letter, Baldwin whispers to his old friend: “I thought I was sick, and indeed, I was, but it turned out to be only a breakdown. About breakdowns, baby, there is nothing to say, nothing one can say while it’s happening, nothing to be said when it’s over. Not even, I hope it will never happen again, for a breakdown, I’ve discovered – hindsight – can be a most valuable thing.”

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