From Balzac to Ruby Dee: My Obligation

Introductory note: This is an unedited first draft, meant to be read by no one at present, 8:50am, 17 August 2013. Perhaps my children or Ruby* will read it revised one day soon.

*I would have written “Ms. Dee” if I didn’t love the particular alliteration used.

“Hey, isn’t that the part of Switzerland where James Baldwin wrote Go Tell It on the Mountain?” — one of the author’s home schooled children, looking over his shoulder as he was reading a biography of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, creator of The Little Prince

From Balzac to Ruby Dee: My Obligation
Dedicated to and the kindness of Latifah
by Oxman

First of all, if anyone is checking into this site to read “the Ruby Dee article” (recommended all this week to many people), they should go immediately to (”Ruby Dee’s Assignment, Part II”). This posting is merely personal play of mine, trying to deal with the personal frustrations — immense disappointment — related to the previous posting (”Haley Hope”), and recent communications with “Connie” Rice’s organizations AND concerned citizens associated with the documentary, James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket

I’m very “up” about the connection I made recently with Emmalyn Productions of New Rochelle, New York. The woman I’ve been in touch with (in my effort to get my thoughts into the hands of Ruby Dee), Latifah, has been warm and welcoming and highly professional. And she’s promised to make a copy of the above article for Ruby Dee on Monday. Maybe it’ll be read on Monday! If that happens, perhaps I’ll get some feedback. I’d welcome feedback from anyone at this juncture, but there is the possibility that Ruby Dee herself will give me a response. Dreams I’ve had lately with Ossie Davis and Lorraine Hansberry hint that that might come down the pike, but… for now… I just have to hold my breath.


I’ve been reading Stacy Schiff’s sweet biography of Antoine de Saint-Exupery (forgive the omission of accents here, please) whilst waiting to hear from Ms. Dee, and I came across the following:

“…Balzac shut the noise of the Revolution of 1848 out and himself and his writing in with the words ‘And now, back to the real world….’”

It’s very tempting to withdraw into my little world of writing, what with the avalanche of activist-related headaches and inexplicable insanity I’ve encountered outside over the last eight years. Having gotten that off my chest for the moment, however, I must say that I have nothing to say, no control over gravitating toward Ruby Dee… in the hopes that what I have to say will resonate enough for her to want to meet our collective daunting challenges in solidarity. [Pause.] I am moved, drawn by something beyond me.

Balzac was a highly conservative Royalist; in many ways, he is the antipode to Victor Hugo’s democratic republicanism. Nevertheless, his keen insight regarding working-class conditions earned him the esteem of many Socialists and Marxists. Engels said that Balzac was his favorite writer. Marx’s work Das Kapital also makes constant reference to the works of Balzac and urged Engels to read Balzac’s work The Unknown Masterpiece. [So says an academic friend of mine who deals with this narrow realm exclusively.]

Balzac has been highly influential, to say the least. He has been called “the French Dickens,” and “the bridge between the comic realism of Dickens and the naturalism of Zola.” Both Flaubert and Proust were deeply affected by him, as were Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Benito Pérez Galdós, Marie Corelli, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, and Italo Calvino.

BUT BUT BUT… the writer of significance who bounced off of Balzac — for the purposes of this (p)article* — was… Henry James. For the American expatriate novelist was an over-the-top influence on JAMES BALDWIN. And Jimmy was all about being “right up the alley” of where I want to go with Ruby Dee.

I was lucky enough to meet Jimmy and Lorraine Hansberry at Small’s Paradise during my formative years (which never seem to end, by the way), and it is my obligation to them and a long line of others which is the focus of this posting for me.

It was only a moment in Harlem, one of many. But I cannot forget what Jimmy said, as he knocked on wood:

“Never give up.”

Those words echoed what Raphael Lemkin said to me during a daunting downpour of rain on the steps of Rutgers Law School in 1955… in Newark, New Jersey, what was once the flower of the Garden State… where I was born.


Daunting odds mean pretty much nothing to me, enveloped as I am by raisins in the Sun.

Afterword: I first met Ruby Dee, unbeknownst to her, in 1959. At It is my fervent wish that I will be able to meet her again — this time face to face in leisurely discussion — before ay-in-a-raisin-in-the-sun/. [Pause.] Even before that. Perhaps before There are a number of reasons for my pushing the envelope here, not the least of which is that my 71st birthday will be on 21 September, and the much-wished-for rendezvous would be a lovely birthday present. And not just for me.

Critic Lawrence Bommer, in commenting on August Wilson’s 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle, described it as “the most complete cultural chronicle since Balzac wrote his vast Human Comedy, an artistic whole that has grown even greater than its prize-winning parts.”* I want to discuss how the sources of pain in both chronicles can be transformed into positive energy in 2013, addressing issues which are dear to the heart of Ruby Dee… and me.