The Book Review

Revisiting Baldwin vs. Buckley

Episode Summary

Nicholas Buccola talks about “The Fire Is Upon Us,” and Lydia Millet discusses “The Children’s Bible.”

Episode Notes

For the next few months, we’re sharing some of our favorite conversations from the podcast’s archives. This week’s segments first appeared in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

In 1965, James Baldwin, by then internationally famous, faced off against William F. Buckley Jr., one of the leading voices of American conservatism, in a debate hosted by the Cambridge Union in England (and currently being dramatized as a stage show at the Public Theater in New York). The debate proposition before the house was: “The American dream is at the expense of the American Negro.”

Nicholas Buccola’s 2019 book “The Fire Is Upon Us” tells the story of that intellectual prizefight as well as the larger story of Buckley’s and Baldwin’s lives.

“Although the union had existed for 150 years prior to this night,” Buccola said on the podcast in 2019, “I’m pretty sure that there was never a speech quite like the speech that Baldwin delivered that night, because a lot of formal debate is this combination of intellectual exercise and performance art — you know, a lot of humor injected and that sort of thing. But Baldwin arrives that night and he delivers a sermon; he delivers a jeremiad. He is there to say things that people don’t want to hear.”

Also this week, we revisit Lydia Millet’s podcast appearance from 2020, when she discussed her novel “The Children’s Bible,” which went on to be named one of our 10 Best Books of the year. The book was inspired, she told the host Pamela Paul, by younger people who are increasingly alarmed by the future they will inherit: “This generation is starting to notice and get angry, and I think the rage is long overdue, and I think it’s the only rational response to the threats we face.” Millet’s new novel, “Dinosaurs,” will be published next week.

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