In the climactic scene of James Baldwin's 1968 novel Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, the narrator and protagonist, Leo Proudhammer, appears with his friend and lover Barbara in the living room of a Jewish acting teacher named Saul San-Marquand, the artistic director of the Actors’ Means Workshop. Leo and Barbara have been hanging around the small town in New Jersey where the Workshop has decamped for the summer season. At last, they have been given their promised chance to perform a scene for Saul, who will decide on the basis of that scene whether or not they will be accepted as members of the Workshop. They have prepared a scene from Clifford Odets's Waiting for Lefty in which Flor and Sid, a young couple, break off their relationship under pressure from Flor's brother. Leo, who is black, and Barbara, who is white, have just admitted their love for each other; their impossible interracial relationship underlies the novel. When they arrive in Saul's apartment, they have just walked through town together to the obscene and threatening jeers of the white townspeople, validating their decision, made in bed hours earlier, that their relationship can never be public.
Shonni Enelow is a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature and literary theory at the University of Pennsylvania. She is completing her dissertation on Method acting.