Searching for Black Queer Domesticity at Chez Baldwin
Magdalena J. Zaborowska
This essay argues for the importance of James Baldwin’s last house, located in St. Paul-de-Vence in the south of France, to his late works written during the productive period of 1971–87: No Name in the Street (1972), If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), The Devil Finds Work (1976), Just Above My Head (1979), The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985), and the unpublished play The Welcome Table (1987). That period ushered in a new Baldwin, more complex and mature as an author, who became disillusioned while growing older as a black queer American who had no choice but to live abroad to get his work done and to feel safe. Having established his most enduring household at “Chez Baldwin,” as the property was known locally, the writer engaged in literary genre experimentation and challenged normative binaries of race, gender, and sexuality with his conceptions of spatially contingent national identity. The late Baldwin created unprecedented models of black queer domesticity and humanism that, having been excluded from U.S. cultural narratives until recently, offer novel ways to reconceptualize what it means to be an American intellectual in the twenty-first-century world.
Sedat Pakay, whose name will always be associated with the most intimate portrayals we
have of James Baldwin, died on 20 August 2016 at his home in Claverack, NY. Sedat was born
in Istanbul, Turkey, where he graduated from Robert College. He studied at the Yale School
of Art under Walker Evans, Paul Strand, and Herbert Matter and became a successful
photo-journalist and filmmaker. His subjects for photographic portraits included Andy
Warhol, Mark Rothko, Josef Albers, Gordon Parks, and, especially, James Baldwin. Pakay’s
best-known films are Walker Evans/America (2000) and, as all Baldwin scholars and friends
know, James Baldwin: From Another Place, filmed in Istanbul in 1970.