When I got the new graphic novelette, The Young C.L. R. James, I realized that while I had heard of James I knew very little about him. I suspect I am not alone in this lack of knowledge, which made the 42-page graphic novelette a good entry point for exploring more about the brilliant James.
Illustrated by Milton Knight and edited by political graphic novelist extraordinaire Paul Buhle and Lawrence Ware, the book traces the early years of a man born in 1901 whose most famous book was the 1938, The Black Jacobins, the first history of the Haitian revolt.
James grew up in the West Indies under British colonial control. At age 7 he took up cricket, the only game played at the time. He would go on to become one of the great cricket writers of his era. James saw cricket as one of England’s few positive contributions to Trinidad, including as it did a “stringent sense of ethics.”
After graduating high school in 1918 James falls in with some “Black Bohemians” who published their own political writings and fiction. He becomes politicized listening to American jazz records and calypso in his Trinidad homeland.
James then made the decision that changed his life. As others told him that “Black writers stand no chance in Trinidad,” he moved to London. He soon wrote a radical play about the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture. The great Paul Robeson agreed to play the leading role on the London stage. James saw Robeson as a rebuttal to the claims of White Superiority upon which British colonialism was based.
James would eventually move to Harlem in the 1940’s, connecting to its burgeoning jazz scene. His motto was “Dance every day if you can,” and Knight’s illustrations depict the Harlem scene of the time.
C.L.R. James: The Artist As Revolutionary
If hearing about the remarkable C.L.R. James encourages further reading, I suggest Paul Buhle’s C.L.R. James: The Artist As Revolutionary. There is a reason James was among the leading Marxist and Pan-African writers of his time, and Buhle brings his legacy to life.
And I am told that if you are in to cricket, C.L.R. James is a must read
Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. His new book, Generation Priced Out, will be out in October from UC Press.Filed under: Book Reviews