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A novelist by trade whose intellectual capaciousness brought him directly into the field of politics, Mailer is somewhat adrift in the general categories of political analysis we are accustomed to in the United States. For him, the Left was either too blindly ideological or too unfocused; the Right only crafted national sensibility by force; and the liberals in the middle had so far created a world without mountains and valleys, a land hard-pressed to accept the existential longings of the modern individual. Instead of situating himself within these categories, Mailer firmly and repeatedly called himself a “Left Conservative.” He even ran for mayor of New York City in 1969 as an advocate of a “Left Conservative” platform. This chapter will work to define Mailer’s position, situating it amongst other political conversations in mid-century America.
James Baldwin welcomed 1963 at a New Year’s Eve party held at the New York City apartment of June Shagaloff, a secular Jew and NAACP official with close ties to Thurgood Marshall and Roy Wilkins. But Baldwin was the star that night. The party was held in his honor, something of an early book release party for his forthcoming (later that month) The Fire Next Time. “Down at the Cross,” the more substantial of the two essays that constituted The Fire Next Time, had just appeared in November’s New Yorker, to widespread acclaim and, it must be said, to some level of astonishment. The writing was so powerful, the insights so dangerously profound, the challenge so formidable. The New Yorker had in fact devoted almost all of one issue’s pages to publish the piece at one time, something it had hardly ever done before. Baldwin was clearly the man of the moment, one of the most articulate spokesmen for the civil rights movement then exploding into the consciousness of the nation. The year 1963 was going to be a pivotal one for James Baldwin.