James Baldwin has frequently been written about in terms of his relationship to geographical locations such as Harlem, Paris, St. Paul-de-Vence, Istanbul, and “the transatlantic,” but his longstanding connection to the American South, a region that served as a vexed and ambiguous spiritual battleground for him throughout his life and career, has been little discussed, even though Baldwin referred to himself as “in all but no technical legal fact, a Southerner.” This article argues that the South has been seriously underconsidered as a major factor in Baldwin’s psyche and career and that were it not for the challenge to witness the Southern Civil Rights movement made to Baldwin in the late 1950s, he might never have left Paris and become the writer and thinker into which he developed. It closely examines Baldwin’s fictional and nonfictional engagements with the American South during two distinct periods of his career, from his first visit to the region in 1957 through the watershed year of 1963, and from 1963 through the publication of Baldwin’s retrospective memoir No Name in the Street in 1972, and it charts Baldwin’s complex and often contradictory negotiations with the construction of identity in white and black Southerners and the South’s tendency to deny and censor its historical legacy of racial violence. A few years before his death, Baldwin wrote that “[t]he spirit of the South is the spirit of America,” and this essay investigates how the essential question he asked about the region—whether it’s a bellwether for America’s moral redemption or moral decline—remains a dangerous and open one.
Elsewhere, but always subsumed within more general issues, I have argued for paying more attention to the Gothicism in the writings of James Kirke Paulding, whose literary career spanned the first half of the nineteenth century. He is one of those American writers who, like murder, will out, despite more neglect than his accomplishments deserve. By 1830 - to cite but one example of Paulding‘s significance - when Hawthorne and Poe were still apprentices in the craft of short fiction, a span of years had passed during which Paulding‘s productions in this genre clearly justified such labels as ‘the Paulding decade of the short story’ (Amos L. Herold‘s designation). Harold E. Hall, moreover, ranks ‘Cobus Yerks and ‘The Dumb Girl’, two Paulding tales from this period, among the finest early nineteenth-century American short stories. Although personal and career necessities often drew him away from literary pursuits, Paulding should by no means be ignored; his name keeps surfacing, particularly when the topic is literary nationalism, as Benjamin T. Spencer, John Seelye, Michael John McDonough, and I have already indicated. Paulding is also remembered as a pioneer in presenting frontier life in fiction and for his early essays in what we now term Southwestern Humor.1