Cover

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Frontmatter

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Contents

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p. vii

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Preface to the 2010 Paperback Edition

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pp. 9-12

I am delighted that the University of Notre Dame Press has decided to republish my first collection of essays, Walls. The book was a true labor of love-it was my way of dealing with a brother dead; and, just as importantly, it was my small attempt at celebrating my mother and father, who never thought their child would predecease them. Of course, the book is about much more: there is an ...

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Introduction

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pp. 13-16

The essays that make up this collection are largely personal ones , which means that I have the freedom and the responsibility to be both self-absorbed and self-corrective. Clearly, the truths I narrate are largely my own: no one can maintain that this or that did not happen unless they were there . And yet, by ...

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A Death in the Family

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pp. 17-28

I recall how difficult it was for me to realize that my brother loved me. He was always in the streets , doing this and that, proverbially in trouble, in a place , Harlem, where trouble indeed was great. At times we would even come to blows , when, for example , drunk as he could b e , he wished to borrow my car ...

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Walls: A Journey to Auburn

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pp. 29-44

At first glance, Auburn Correctional Facility calls to mind a feudal castle or a stone and brick edifice worthy of Humphrey Bogart or Edward G. Robinson. One readily envisions prisoners dragging their balls and chains, the late-night prison break, or the lights slowly flickering, presaging the imminent ...

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The School

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pp. 45-64

Improve the flying moments, the motto on the ancient dead clock read , and every Collegiate boy, whether he was rushing to homeroom, algebra, or th e bathroom, would pass this aphorism ten times a day and a million times a year. It is difficult to tell what exactly its impact was on the three hundred or so boys ; it certainly did not have the force of New York City, ...

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Unity Day

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pp. 65-76

I am fond of telling my creative writing students that in a time o f true crisis one often finds oneself focused on something oddly trivial , something that becomes , God knows why, as important as the Rosetta Stone in one ' s present moment of distress. This " new obsession" can be as banal as the color of one ' s toothbrush o r the realization, albeit for the first time , that ...

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Baxter's Program: Creative Writing at Cornell

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pp. 77-82

The first meeting of a creative writing seminar is always particularly exciting. There are the new students , their faces alternately open and grave, and a knife-edged, heady wind of expectancy. For this is a writing class, the world is to be revised and revisited; and everyone senses , from the initiate to ...

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Intimate Injustice

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pp. 83-96

A few days ago I was offered a whopping one hundred and fifty thousand dollars for our summer home on the island of Martha' s Vineyard. Even though the house was not mine to sell-it belongs to my parents-the figure seemed out of all proportion to reality . Undeniably , the house is a grand one. With ten rooms , ...

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Keep On Keeping On

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pp. 97-110

I met the great writer James Baldwin on three very singular occasions : once when he gave a lecture and signed my copy of Just Above My Head; a second time when he and I had a drink together in Ithaca, New York; and a third time, when he was beyond all this , at his funeral at the Cathedral of st. John the ...

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Between Yes and No

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pp. 111-120

Recently I was a willful spectator at a " shanty raising" by a large contingent of Cornell faculty members-some ninety or so spirited souls. I say willful because I willed myself to be inactive, but I am getting ahead of myself. The haphazard structure-three-quarters good intentions and much architectural ...

Acknowledgments

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p. 121