Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney

David Adams Leeming, Author
David Adams Leeming, Author Oxford University Press, USA $30 (256p) ISBN 978-0-19-509784-9
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Leeming's admiration for Beauford Delaney (1901-1979), a brilliant but largely overlooked African American modernist painter, shines through every page of this intimate and engrossing biography. Despite constant struggles with poverty, loneliness, alcoholism and mental illness, Delaney emerges as an inspiring figure--a poor minister's son from Knoxville, Tenn. who turned to art as an outlet for intense emotions. James Baldwin called Delaney his ""spiritual father,"" and Leeming, Baldwin's authorized biographer, says that this is in a sense a continuation of his Baldwin biography released in 1994. Culling material from Delaney's journal/sketchbooks, letters, and interviews with Delaney, his family and friends, Leeming peels away the layers of Delaney's considerable charm to reveal his divided life, which ended tragically in a Paris mental hospital. Though on the surface, Delaney ""was all tranquillity and wisdom,"" he spent his life navigating separate worlds: black artists and intellectuals who knew nothing about his homosexuality; white, gay bohemians, homeless stragglers whom he invited home day and night; and the cultural elite of Boston, New York and Paris from the 1920s through the 1970s. Although enlivened throughout with vivid anecdotes by and about such friends as Henry Miller, Al Hirschfeld, Countee Cullen, Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe, Leeming's biography falls short of bringing the subject himself to life, perhaps because of Delaney's inherent elusiveness. Still, Leeming manages to offer some astute psychological insights, and the historical context he provides adds an important dimension. Photos. (Feb.)
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