Chinua Achebe and James Baldwin

The escalation of systematic, if random, violence in the contemporary world frames the concerns of the article, which seeks to read Baldwin for the present. It works by a measure of indirection, arriving at Baldwin after a detour which introduces Chinua Achebe. The Baldwin–Achebe relationship is familiar fare. However, here I explore not the shared congruence between their first novels, but rather focus on their later works, in which the reflexes of terror lie close to the surface. I use Achebe’s final novel, Anthills of the Savanah, as a way into Baldwin’s “difficult” last book, The Evidence of Things Not Seen, suggesting that both these works can speak directly to our own historical present. Both Baldwin and Achebe, I argue, chose to assume the role of witness to the evolving manifestations of catastrophe, which they came to believe enveloped the final years of their lives. In order to seek redemption they each determined to craft a prose—the product of a very particular historical conjuncture—which could bring out into the open the prevailing undercurrents of violence and terror.

James Baldwin Review
Open Access (free)
If Beale Street Could Talk, 2019

I reflect on the place of If Beale Street Could Talk in the corpus of Baldwin’s writings, and its relationship to Barry Jenkins’s movie released at the beginning of 2019. I consider also what the arrival of the movie can tell us about how Baldwin is located in contemporary collective memories.

James Baldwin Review
Editor: Bill Schwarz

Caribbean migration to Britain brought many new things—new music, new foods, new styles. It brought new ways of thinking too. This book explores the intellectual ideas that the West Indians brought with them to Britain. It shows that, for more than a century, West Indians living in Britain developed a dazzling intellectual critique of the codes of Imperial Britain. Chapters discuss the influence of, amongst others, C. L. R. James, Una Marson, George Lamming, Jean Rhys, Claude McKay and V. S. Naipaul. The contributors draw from many different disciplines to bring alive the thought and personalities of the figures they discuss, providing a picture of intellectual developments in Britain from which we can still learn much. The introduction argues that the recovery of this Caribbean past, on the home territory of Britain itself, reveals much about the prospects of multiracial Britain.

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George Padmore represents a particular variant on the theme of emigration which underwrites the story of twentieth-century Caribbean intellectuals. He was an intellectual formed deep in the vortex of the age of extremes, and for most of his life he espoused positions which others perceived to be both extreme and fanatical. He was also inducted into politics in the USA and through Communism, though from the outset he was fired by the injustices of race and colonialism. The main contours of Padmore's political thought from the days of The Negro Worker to the time of the Pan-African Congress in Manchester in October 1945 are reviewed. Padmore showed every sign that he had mastered the culture of the colonisers, having learned to inhabit Englishness at perfect pitch. He expressed the elementary truth that colonialism has neither moral nor intellectual justification.

in West Indian intellectuals in Britain
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The predicament of history

The term ‘West Indian’ always represented a complex of competing ideas, a resource for both colonial and anticolonial politics. West Indians were colonial Britons who experienced the civilisation of the British, in Britain, from a very particular vantage. Three overlapping and interconnected areas of thought are addressed: race and ethnicity; the project of decolonisation; and the historical imagination itself. The issue of the popular brought the cultural activists of Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) hard up against the question of British civilisation. It suggests that the work of decolonisation in its expansive register requires popular self-activity, not only on the part of the colonised but on the part too of the native citizens of the metropolis. Maybe in the future the most profound impact of Caribbean thought will be on the capacity to imagine the past, and to strive to bring it into consciousness.

in West Indian intellectuals in Britain
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Crossing the seas

This book addresses the analytical consequences of the encounter between West Indian and Briton. West Indian emigrants came from societies well advanced in the prerequisites of breaking from colonialism. The West Indian presence created new possibilities within the metropolitan culture for the issues to be spoken. West Indian exiles in London played a decisive role. For West Indians to ‘become’ postcolonial they were required to destroy the external authority of the British. The Pleasures of Exile and Beyond a Boundary represent the theorisation of the migrant view of England. Through the 1960s, West Indians in Britain were alive to the cultural developments in the newly independent countries of black Africa, and representatives of a new generation of black African novelists found in the Caribbean Artists Movement a welcoming home.

in West Indian intellectuals in Britain