This article is a close analysis of Baldwin’s voice in the essay
“Notes of a Native Son.” Much has been written about
Baldwin’s themes, but without his singular voice, the power of his works
would not endure. Through his use of diction, repetition, alliteration and
assonance, scene selection, and even punctuation, Baldwin provides the reader
with a transformative experience by rendering his own experience accessible. The
political and the personal are inextricable, a truth made unavoidable by the way
Baldwin writes as much as by the subject he chooses. Examining how he crafts his
voice allows us to understand more deeply the power of “Notes of a Native
James Baldwin Interviewed by Hakim Jamal for LA Free
Having returned to the United States to work on his screenplay about Malcolm X,
James Baldwin was interviewed for the Los Angeles Free Press in
1968. The interview offers a rare and valuable glimpse of Baldwin’s style
of engagement with a new generation of radical Black activists whose current
vogue Baldwin understood as valuable, whose new appraisal of history Baldwin had
both helped to create and needed to learn from, and whose dangerous predicament
Baldwin recognized and felt partly responsible for. Ed Pavlić provides a
contextual and historical introduction to that interview, which is reproduced
here with permission from the Free Press.
Learning in the Twenty-First Century from James Baldwin on
One theme in James Baldwin’s work that has gained increasing attention in
the last quarter-century is music. What has been missing from this discussion,
however, has been a thematic survey of Baldwin’s writing on music and its
implications for the twenty-first century. This article focuses on select
music-centered texts to examine what Baldwin’s ideas about music reveal
about history in our own times. Multiple themes in his writing show how racial
slavery creates—in the present tense—differences in experiences
and musical expression between people constructed as Black and as white.
Baldwin’s writing illuminates the significance of racial slavery in
American music history even beyond genres associated with Black Americans.
This article compares the works of James Baldwin and Jean Améry, a
survivor of the Jewish Holocaust. It attempts to unpack the ethical and
political implications of their shared conception of the temporality of trauma.
The experiences of the victim of anti-Semitism and the victim of anti-Black
racism not only parallel one another, but their mutual incapacity to let go of
the injustice of the past also generates a unique ethico-political response. The
backward glance of the victim, the avowed incapacity to heal, as well as the
phantasmatic desire to reverse time all guide this unique response. Instead of
seeking forgiveness for the wrong done and declaring that all forms of
resentment are illegitimate, Baldwin and Améry show us that channeling
the revenge fantasy that so often attends the temporality of trauma is the
material precondition of actually ending that trauma. This ultimately suggests
that, for both thinkers, anything less than a new, revolutionary humanism
equipped with an internationalist political project would betray the
victims’ attempt to win back their dignity.
James Baldwin was a vocal critic of Hollywood, but he was also a cinephile, and his critique of film was not so much of the medium itself, but of the uses to which it was put. Baldwin saw in film the chance to transform both politics and art—if only film could be transformed itself. This essay blends readings of archival materials, literature, film, and print culture to examine three distinct modes in Baldwin’s ongoing quest to revolutionize film. First, I argue, literature served as a key site to practice being a filmmaker, as Baldwin adapted cinematic grammars in his fiction and frequently penned scenes of filmgoing in which he could, in effect, direct his own movies. Secondly, I show that starting in the 1960s, Baldwin took a more direct route to making movies, as he composed screenplays, formed several production companies, and attempted to work in both Hollywood and the independent film scene in Europe. Finally, I explore how Baldwin sought to change cinema as a performer himself, in particular during his collaboration on Dick Fontaine and Pat Hartley’s documentary I Heard It Through the Grapevine (1982). This little-known film follows Baldwin as he revisits key sites from the civil rights movement and reconnects with activist friends as he endeavors to construct a revisionist history of race in America and to develop a media practice capable of honoring Black communities.
James Baldwin’s arrest in Paris in December 1949 gave birth to his perfect storm. His ten days in Fresnes jail weakened him physically and emotionally. He made it out, but upon release he was mired in self-doubt and enveloped in a bout of depression. He returned to his hotel, ready to try to get back to his life, however daunting that effort would be. The hotelier’s demand that he settle his bill, and do it quickly, awakened his obsession with suicide. He simply could not handle one more obstacle in his path; he chose to kill himself in his room. Ironically, he saved his life when he jumped off a chair with a sheet around his neck. In a matter of seconds his death wish was replaced by his equally obsessive need to write, witness, think, party, drink, challenge, and love.
The distinguished critic Professor Cheryl A. Wall (1948–2020) was the
Board of Governors Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English at Rutgers
University, New Brunswick. Her path-breaking scholarship in two highly
influential monographs, Women of the Harlem Renaissance (1995)
and Worrying the Line: Black Women Writers, Lineage, and Literary
Tradition (2005), helped to ensure that twentieth-century Black
women writers were recognized and valued for their power, genius, and
complexity. Her most recent book, On Freedom and the Will to Adorn: The
Art of the African American Essay (2018), places the essay form at
the center of African American literary achievement. Throughout her long career
she supported and enabled Black students, and championed racial diversity and
gender equality at every level of the university. An Associate Editor of
James Baldwin Review, she was the most generous and astute
of readers, as well as a wise editor. In this memorial section, fifteen
colleagues, former students, and interlocutors share their remembrances and
honor her legacy.
A Hollywood Love Story (as Written by James Baldwin)
D. Quentin Miller
Baldwin’s The Devil Finds Work (1976) has proven challenging since its publication because readers and critics have trouble classifying it. The challenge may be related to a common feature of Baldwin criticism, namely a tendency to compare late career works to early ones and to find them lacking: the experimental nature of later works of nonfiction like No Name in the Street (1972), The Devil Finds Work, and The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985) does not square easily with the more conventional essays that made Baldwin famous in his early years. I attempt to reframe The Devil Finds Work not through a comparison to other Baldwin essays, but rather through a comparison to his fiction, specifically the novel Giovanni’s Room. I posit that a greater appreciation for Devil can result from thinking of it as a story, specifically the story of a failed love affair.
Filmmaker Karen Thorsen gave us James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket, the award-winning documentary that is now considered a classic. First broadcast on PBS/American Masters in August, 1989—just days after what would have been Baldwin’s sixty-fifth birthday—the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1990. It was not the film Thorsen intended to make. Beginning in 1986, Baldwin and Thorsen had been collaborating on a very different film project: a “nonfiction feature” about the history, research, and writing of Baldwin’s next book, “Remember This House.” It was also going to be a film about progress: about how far we had come, how far we still have to go, before we learn to trust our common humanity. But that project ended abruptly. On 1 December 1987, James Baldwin died—and “Remember This House,” book and film died with him. Suddenly, Thorsen’s mission changed: the world needed to know what they had lost. Her alliance with Baldwin took on new meaning. The following memoir—the second of two serialized parts—explores how and why their collaboration began. The first installment appeared in the sixth volume of James Baldwin Review, in the fall of 2020; the next stage of their journey starts here.