A. Nesbitt
Asma Nesbitt, Mount Saint Mary College Freshman, speaking at the Open Mic Reading in Curtin Memorial Library. (Photo by Amy Rice)

by Amy Rice

James Baldwin, (or Jimmy, as Sedat Pakay calls him), lives a life that is “different than the life people imagine.”

Pakay began his photography career in 1964, taking pictures of well-known artists. When he noticed Baldwin’s animated characteristics, including his big bulging eyes and dark beautiful skin, he knew he had to shoot him. That same year, Pakay got the opportunity to, and he produced the amazing piece of art he called “Portrait.”

On February 12th, Sedat Pakay came to Mount Saint Mary College to share the interesting life of James Baldwin with the students, staff, and Newburgh community. Aquinas room 216 was packed with an intrigued audience, forcing latecomers and the gracious Curtin Memorial Library hosts to sit on the stairwell beside the theater seats. Because the Arts and Letters department co-hosted this event, students from English 101 and 102 classes were clearly represented.

Before viewing Pakay’s James Baldwin documentary that had already made it to the screens of PBS, Pakay got the audiences’ attention with his subtle jokes and openhearted persona. He relayed how he met Baldwin in Istanbul, Turkey. Baldwin, a spectacle to the public because of his homosexuality, rich dark skin and amazing writing ability, had decided to pack his bags and move from America to Istanbul. He wanted to live a life free of intrusion where he could write in peace.

The documentary featured Baldwin talking in a low somber voice about his life as a black gay man, and politics, but mostly love. In the documentary, Baldwin says that love “never comes to you the way you think it will.” However, Baldwin only needs his face to really tell a story. Jimmy considers himself one of the three leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King was the conscious, Malcolm X the warrior, and himself, the poet.

Pakay chose to film Baldwin in Istanbul because he wanted him to be in a place that was different than the one he grew up in. There was a “mutual trust” between Pakay and Baldwin, Pakay states. Because of this, Pakay was able to collect about 40 minutes of film and cut it down to 12 minutes for the documentary.

Arts and Letters professor Stephanie Pietros, Ph. D., spearheaded the presentation that worked in conjunction with an open mic reading of Baldwin’s literature in Curtin Memorial Library later that week. Pietros, also the daughter-in-law of Pakay, was inspired to bring awareness of this great American author during February, Black History month. Because black American literature is not in Pietros’ field of study, she was excited to open up another perspective to her students to expand their knowledge.

The Mount community is thankful to Sedat Pakay for opening our eyes to such a wonderful character. For more information on Pakay and his work, visit www.sedatpakay.com.