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Dennis Ray Knight Jr.

If he is known for anything other than his writings, James Baldwin is best known for his work as a civil rights activist. What is often overlooked is Baldwin’s work toward uniting two under-represented and oppressed groups: African Americans and homosexuals. With his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Baldwin began a career of speaking about and for homosexuals and their relationship with the institutions of African-American communities. Through its focus on a sensitive, church-going teenager, Go Tell It on the Mountain dramatizes the strain imposed upon homosexual members of African-American communities within the Pentecostal Church through its religious beliefs.

James Baldwin Review
Rape and Marriage in Go Tell It on the Mountain
Porter Nenon

To consider how James Baldwin resisted racialized notions of sexuality in his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, I employ a number of black feminist critics—including Saidiya Hartman, Patricia Williams, Hortense Spillers, and Patricia Hill Collins—to analyze three under-studied minor characters: Deborah, Esther, and Richard. Those three characters are best understood as figures of heterosexual nonconformity who articulate sophisticated and important critiques of rape and marriage in America at the turn of the twentieth century. Baldwin thus wrote subversive theories of race and sexuality into the margins of the novel, making its style inextricable from its politics. Baldwin’s use of marginal voices was a deft and intentional artistic choice that was emancipatory for his characters and that remains enduringly relevant to American sexual politics. In this particularly polarizing transition from the Obama era to the Donald J. Trump presidency, I revisit Baldwin’s ability to subtly translate political ideas across fault lines like race, nationality, and sex.

James Baldwin Review
James Baldwin, the Religious Right, and the Moral Minority
Joseph Vogel

In the 1980s, James Baldwin recognized that a major transformation had occurred in the socio-political functions of religion. His critique adapted accordingly, focusing on the ways in which religion—particularly white evangelical Christianity—had morphed into a movement deeply enmeshed with mass media, conservativepolitics, and late capitalism. Religion in the Reagan era was leveraged, sold, and consumed in ways never before seen, from charismatic televangelists, to Christian-themed amusement parks, to mega-churches. The new movement was often characterized as the “religious right” or the “Moral Majority” and was central to both Reagan’s political coalition as well as the broader culture wars. For Baldwin, this development had wide-ranging ramifications for society and the individual. This article draws on Baldwin’s final major essay, “To Crush the Serpent” (1987), to examine the author’s evolving thoughts on religion, salvation, and transgression in the context of the Reagan era.

James Baldwin Review
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Reading James Baldwin’s Existential Hindsight in Go Tell It on the Mountain
Miller Wilbourn

This essay reads James Baldwin’s first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, through the lenses of European existentialism and Black existential thought to arrive at a new understanding of the novel itself as well as essential stages of its development. Archival sources and close reading reveal Baldwin’s historically and existentially informed artistic vision, summed up in the terms hindsight and insight. His thoughtful, uncomfortable engagement with the past leads to a recuperated relationship to the community and constitutes existential hindsight, which informs his inward understanding of himself—his insight. This investigation draws on various works from Baldwin’s fiction, essays, interviews, and correspondence to arrive at a better understanding of the writer’s intellectual and artistic development, focusing especially on the professed objectives behind, and major revisions of, the novel. I conclude the essay through a close reading of the conversion scene that constitutes Part Three of Go Tell It on the Mountain.

James Baldwin Review
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James Baldwin, William F. Buckley, Jr., and the Civil Rights Revolution
 Linfield University

Born in New York City only fifteen months apart, the Harlem-raised James Baldwin and the privileged William F. Buckley, Jr. could not have been more different, but they both rose to the height of American intellectual life during the civil rights movement. By the time they met in February 1965 to debate race and the American Dream at the Cambridge Union, Buckley—a founding father of the American conservative movement—was determined to sound the alarm about a man he considered an “eloquent menace.” For his part, Baldwin viewed Buckley as a deluded reactionary whose popularity revealed the sickness of the American soul. The stage was set for an epic confrontation that pitted Baldwin’s call for a moral revolution in race relations against Buckley’s unabashed elitism and implicit commitment to white supremacy. In this article I introduce readers to the story at the heart of my new book about Baldwin and Buckley, The Fire Is Upon Us.

James Baldwin Review
James Baldwin in Conversation with Fritz J. Raddatz (1978)
Gianna Zocco

This is the first English-language publication of an interview with James Baldwin conducted by the German writer, editor, and journalist Fritz J. Raddatz in 1978 at Baldwin’s house in St. Paul-de-Vence. In the same year, it was published in German in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, as well as in a book of Raddatz’s conversations with international writers, and—in Italian translation—in the newspaper La Repubblica. The interview covers various topics characteristic of Baldwin’s interests at the time—among them his thoughts about Jimmy Carter’s presidency, his reasons for planning to return to the United States, his disillusionment after the series of murders of black civil rights activists in the 1960s and 1970s, and the role of love and sexuality in his literary writings. A special emphasis lies on the discussion of possible parallels between Nazi Germany and U.S. racism, with Baldwin most prominently likening the whole city of New York to a concentration camp. Due to copyright reasons, this reprint is based on an English translation of the edited version published in German. A one-hour tape recording of the original English conversation between Raddatz and Baldwin is accessible at the German literary archive in Marbach.

James Baldwin Review
James Baldwin’s Just Above My Head
Jenny M. James

This article considers James Baldwin’s last published novel, Just Above My Head (1979), as the culmination of his exploration of kinship, reflecting on the ways distance and loss characterize African-American familial relations. By analyzing Baldwin’s representation of Hall Montana’s relationship to, and mourning of, his younger brother Arthur, this article argues that JAMH revises the terms of the black family to imagine an alternative, errant kinship that is adoptive, migratory, and sustained through songs of joy and grief. My approach to the novel’s portrayal of kinship is indebted to Édouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation (1990), in which he defines “errantry” as a fundamental characteristic of diaspora that resists the claustrophobic, filial violence and territorial dispossession that are slavery’s legacies. Baldwin represents errant kinship in JAMH through his inclusion of music and formal experimentation. Departing from previous scholarship that reads JAMH as emblematic of the author’s artistic decline, I interpret the novel’s numerous syntactic and figurative experiments as offering new formal insight into his portrait of brotherly love. Baldwin’s integration of two distinctive leitmotifs, blood and song, is therefore read as a formal gesture toward a more capacious and migratory kinship.

James Baldwin Review
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James Baldwin and the "Closeted-ness" of American Power
David Jones

This article reads the work of James Baldwin in dialogue with that of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Taking its cue from Baldwin’s claim that Americans “live […] with something in [their] closet” that they “pretend […] is not there,” it explores his depiction of a United States characterized by the “closeted-ness” of its racial discourse. In doing so, the article draws on Sedgwick’s work concerning how the containment of discourses pertaining to sexuality hinges on the closeting of non-heteronormative sexual practices. Reconceptualizing Sedgwick’s ideas in the context of a black, queer writer like Baldwin, however, problematizes her own insistence on the “historical gay specificity” of the epistemology she traces. To this end, this article does not simply posit a racial counterpart to the homosexual closet. Rather, reflecting Baldwin’s insistence that “the sexual question and the racial question have always been entwined,” I highlight here the interpretive possibilities opened up by intersectional analyses that view race, sexuality, and national identity as coextensive, reciprocal epistemologies.  

James Baldwin Review
James Baldwin’s Radicalism and the Evolution of His Thought on Israel
Nadia Alahmed

This article traces the evolution of James Baldwin’s discourse on the Arab–Israeli conflict as connected to his own evolution as a Black thinker, activist, and author. It creates a nuanced trajectory of the transformation of Baldwin’s thought on the Arab–Israeli conflict and Black and Jewish relations in the U.S. This trajectory is created through the lens of Baldwin’s relationship with some of the major radical Black movements and organizations of the twentieth century: Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, and, finally, the Black Power movement, especially the Black Panther Party. Using Baldwin as an example, the article displays the Arab–Israeli conflict as a terrain Black radicals used to articulate their visions of the nature of Black oppression in the U.S., strategies of resistance, the meaning of Black liberation, and articulations of Black identity. It argues that the study of Baldwin’s transformation from a supporter of the Zionist project of nation-building to an advocate of Palestinian rights and national aspirations reveals much about the ideological transformations of the larger Black liberation movement.

James Baldwin Review
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Food and Identity in His Life and Fiction
Emily Na

This article traces how the queer Black writer James Baldwin’s transnational palate and experiences influenced the ways he wrote about Black domestic spaces in the late twentieth century. In the 1960s and 1970s, while Black feminist cooks and writers like Edna Lewis, Jessica B. Harris, and Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor developed new theories of soul food in relation to the Black American community and broader American cuisine, Baldwin incorporated these philosophies and transnational tastes into his lifestyle and works. He traveled and worked around Europe, settling in places like Paris, Istanbul, and Saint-Paul de Vence for years at a time. In Saint-Paul de Vence, where he spent his last years, he set up his own welcome table, at which he hosted internationally renowned guests and shared his love of cuisine. Inevitably, Baldwin’s passion for cooking and hosting meals became a large, though scholarly neglected, component of his novels and essays. In his novels Another Country, which he finished in Istanbul and published in 1962, and Just Above My Head, which he finished in Saint-Paul de Vence and published in 1979, Baldwin’s depictions of food and Black kitchens take a queer turn. Instead of lingering on traditional Black family structures, these texts specifically present new formulations of intimate home life and reimagine relationships between food, kitchens, race, and sex in the late twentieth century.

James Baldwin Review