Little Man Little Man introduces the world of four-year-old TJ. For him, his block in Harlem is his world.
This street long. It real long. It a little like the street in the movies or the TV when the cop cars come from that end of the street and then they come from the other end of the street and the man they come to get he in one of the houses or he on the fire-escape or he on the roof and he see they come for him and he see the cop cars at that end and he see the cop cars at the other end.WT, TJ's surrogate older brother, Blinky, the girl across the street, Mr. Man, the janitor, and his wife Miss Lee, the next door neighbor Miss Beanpole, and his parents: these are the people that fill TJ's life. He can bounce his basketball so high and catch it. He can run to the corner store for Miss Lee, and even to the store several blocks away for Miss Beanpole."He going to be a bigger star than Hank Aaron one of these days."
The story is told in black American joined with the language of children. The present flows easily to the past.
The illustrations were done by Yoran Cazac, a French artist, and Baldwin's close personal friend. Cazac asked Baldwin to be godfather to his third child, and Baldwin dedicated his novel If Beale Street Could Talk (1974) to Cazac.
TJ was based on Baldwin's seven-year-old nephew who went by TJ. In the novel, after his monumental trips to the store, and his interactions with WT and Blinky, TJ's day is shattered, literally--"It like a big explosion, like a bomb falling on him."--when a glass bottle falls from the top of his building and lands on his head. TJ is unharmed, but in racing to his aid, WT slashes open his foot through the hole in the sole of his shoe.
The children manage to get WT to the basement where Mr. Man sets him on his bed. Miss Lee is sent for, and when she arrives, she attends to WT's wounds. While the children see her as a healer--"'Did you used to be a nurse?'"--the adult reader understands that Miss Lee is an alcoholic, and it is she who dropped the bottle. The event casts a somber pall over the day until Mr. Man puts on his record player and Blinky begins to dance, which starts TJ to dancing, and soon all of them, the adults included, are laughing away.
THE NOVEL IS DEDICATED to the eminent African-American artist Beauford Delaney. Baldwin met Delaney when he was fourteen, the first self-supporting artist he had ever met, and like Baldwin, Delaney was black and homosexual. Delaney became a mentor to Baldwin, who often spoke of him as a "spiritual father." In later years, as Delaney succumbed to mental illness and was unable to care for himself, Baldwin legally acted in the role of family to oversee his affairs. It was Delaney who introduced Baldwin to Yoran Cazac in Paris.
Outside of the scant information above, taken from James Baldwin: A Biography by David Leeming, I have been unable to uncover more about Yoran Cazac. If anyone knows anything further, please get in touch and I will append it to this post. To see more of Yoran Cazac's art for Little Man Little Man, see my Flickr set here.
For a much superior treatment of Little Man Little Man, see Julius Lester's New York Times review.
I wish I could love this book, because I love James Baldwin. But it is a slight book, and it was written by a man I will always honor [and] cannot alter this assessment. Children's literature is a province of its own, a fact which the literati do not take seriously enough.For more on the relationship between James Baldwin and Beauford Delaney, see Rachel Coehn's beautiful A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists.
And in a We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie chance meeting, when Chinua Achebe received a UNESCO travel grant in 1963, he chose the United States as one of his two destinations with the particular hope of meeting James Baldwin. Baldwin was in France at the time, and Achebe was much disappointed. But many years later, in 1980, the two men met at an African Literature Association conference in Gainesville where they had both been asked to speak. Achebe speaks warmly of the occasion in his remarks made at a commemoration ceremony at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. It is reprinted in James Baldwin: The Legacy, edited by Quincy Troupe.
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