Lawrence Baker's Middle Passage is written in the tradition of western prose, in which a person reflects on influences and experiences in his life. Baker's world involved cultural, intellectual and social expectations pressing hard against negative racial stereotypes and reality. He came of age in Jacksonville, Florida, in the 1960s, torn between relationships, school, the negative magnetism of the streets, and the impenetrable reticence of his mother, intent upon survival in her own unique manner. As a result, Baker left the south, seeking neither fame nor fortune, but a long absent father and educational opportunities. It was in Cleveland, Ohio, during the late 1960s that some degree of stability entered his life. There, with the aid of his father, he was able to pursue an education and become what he terms first "a man," and eventually an artist. His odyssey involves encountering and overcoming various obstacles, none more daunting than the inertia of race, family and an inadequate early education.
This book not only asks plain questions about the connections between Baker's complex inner life and art, but also probes the relationship between African-American social and cultural development and the purpose and role of art. Therefore, Baker's life is the scaffolding, but the book does not stop with his thoughts and his experiences. It endeavors to show, through Baker, some of the underlying tensions between seeing and being seen, between what is and perhaps what should be.