Biographers have a particularly difficult task. They must, by virtue of the genre itself, describe in exquisite detail the activities, accomplishments, and emotional underpinnings of the subject in question. Yet, as John Donne wrote, “No man is an Island.” Therefore, the effective biographer must also place a subject under scrutiny within some socio-intellectual context. Even the most innovative of individuals, no matter what their area of expertise, cannot fail but to draw upon the sum and substance of events and personalities around them.
Biographer David Leeming is faced with an especially difficult task. His subject in AMAZING GRACE: A LIFE OF BEAUFORD DELANEY is a black homosexual who lived, for the most part, at a time and in a place when prudence dictated a low profile. Furthermore, the archival sources which pertain to Beauford Delaney are more indirect than direct. Much of what is known about the man is in consequence of his relationship with others, to whit, James Baldwin, Henry Miller, and the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance.
Beauford Delaney was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1901, and he died in a French insane asylum in 1979. For most of his life he was poor and increasingly deranged. He worked at whatever service jobs he could find while moving from a representational style toward an abstract vision which racist critics disparaged as little more than primitive. His paintings were vibrant and noted for their psychological depth.
David Leeming is an exceptional biographer. He has written a sensitive account of a very talented and very troubled man.