I first encountered James Baldwin in graduate school. Too late, I think, but better than never at all. His words on page have such power, but his voice. His voice. Hear him speak about the place of writers and artists in society. Have your students or children study his words. He makes a forceful case for why poetry must drive our politics. Complement his words here with this video footage of him talking about education. Maria Popover at Brainpickings discusses Baldwin beautifully and posted the SoundCloud audio track. She also points us to this excerpt:
[This is] a time … when something awful is happening to a civilization, when it ceases to produce poets, and, what is even more crucial, when it ceases in any way whatever to believe in the report that only the poets can make. Conrad told us a long time ago…: “Woe to that man who does not put his trust in life.” Henry James said, “Live, live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.” And Shakespeare said — and this is what I take to be the truth about everybody’s life all of the time — “Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.” Art is here to prove, and to help one bear, the fact that all safety is an illusion. In this sense, all artists are divorced from and even necessarily opposed to any system whatever.