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Biographical Dispatches on a Freedom Writer

This essay presents the idea of James Baldwin as a freedom writer, the organizing idea of my biography in progress. As a freedom writer, Baldwin was a revolutionary intellectual, an essayist and novelist committed unfailingly to the realization of racial justice, interracial political equality, and economic democracy. While the book is still in process, this short essay narrates autobiographically how I came to meet and know Baldwin’s work, explains in critical fashion my work in relation to existing biographies, and reflects interpretively my thoughts-in- progress on this fascinating and captivating figure of immense historical and social consequence.

James Baldwin Review

This review article charts the general direction of scholarship in James Baldwin studies between the years 2015 and 2016, reflecting on important scholarly events and publications of the period and identifying notable trends in criticism. While these years witnessed a continuing interest in the relationship of Baldwin’s work to other authors and art forms as well as his transnational literary imagination, noted in previous scholarly reviews, three newly emergent trends are notable: an increased attention to Baldwin in journals primarily devoted to the study of literatures in English, a new wave of multidisciplinary studies of Baldwin, and a burgeoning archival turn in Baldwin criticism.

James Baldwin Review

James Baldwin criticism from 2001 through 2010 is marked by an increased appreciation for Baldwin’s entire oeuvre including his writing after the mid 1960s. The question of his artistic decline remains debated, but more scholars find a greater consistency and power in Baldwin’s later work than previous scholars had found. A group of dedicated Baldwin scholars emerged during this period and have continued to host regular international conferences. The application of new and diverse critical lenses—including cultural studies, political theory, religious studies, and black queer theory—contributed to more complex readings of Baldwin’s texts. Historical and legal approaches re-assessed Baldwin’s relationship to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and new material emerged on Baldwin’s decade in Turkey. Some historical perspective gave many critics a more nuanced approach to the old “art” vs. “politics” debate as it surfaced in Baldwin’s initial reception, many now finding Baldwin’s “angry” work to be more “relevant” than “out of touch” as it was thought of during his lifetime. In the first decade of the new millennium, three books of new primary source material, a new biography, four books of literary criticism, three edited collections of critical essays, two special issues of journals and numerous book chapters and articles were published, marking a significant increase not only in the quantity, but the quality of Baldwin criticism.

James Baldwin Review

James Baldwin might be imagined as reaching his greatest level of popularity within this current decade. With the growth of social media activist movements like Black Lives Matter, which captures and catalyzes off a Baldwinian rage, and the publishing of works directly evoking Baldwin, his voice appears more pronounced between the years of 2013 and 2015. Scholars in Baldwin studies, along with strangers who were turned into witnesses of his literary oeuvre, have contributed to this renewed interest in Baldwin, or at least have been able to sharpen the significance of the phenomenon. Publications and performances highlight Baldwin’s work and how it prefigured developments in critical race and queer theories, while also demonstrating Baldwin’s critique as both prophetic and “disturbingly” contemporary. Emerging largely from Baldwin’s timelessness in social and political discourse, and from the need to conjure a figure to demystify the absurd American landscape, these interventions in Baldwin studies follow distinct trends. This essay examines the 2013–15 trends from four vantages: an examination of a return, with revision, to popular work by Baldwin; identifying Baldwin’s work as a contributor to theoretical and critical methodology; Baldwin and intertextuality or intervocality; and a new frontier in Baldwin studies.

James Baldwin Review

The intellectual connection between James Baldwin and Lionel Trilling, and the resonances across their criticism, are more substantial than scholarly and biographical treatments have disclosed. For Trilling, Baldwin’s writings were notable for their deviation from most humanistic inquiry, which he considered insufficiently alert to the harms and depredations of culture. Baldwin’s work became for Trilling a promising indication that American criticism could be remade along the lines of a tragic conception of culture deriving from Freud. This essay concentrates on a relevant but neglected dynamic in American letters—the mid-twentieth-century tension between Freudian thought and American humanistic inquiry evident in fields like American Studies—to explain the intellectual coordinates within which Trilling developed an affinity for Baldwin’s work. The essay concludes by suggesting that the twilight of Freud’s tragic conception of culture, which figured centrally in the modernist critical environment in which Baldwin and Trilling encountered one another, contributed to an estrangement whereby the two came to be seen as unrelated and different kinds of critics, despite the consonance of their critical idioms during the 1940s and 1950s.

James Baldwin Review

Clearly there is a unique hunger for Baldwin’s wisdom in this historical moment, as illustrated by Raoul Peck’s film, reprints of several Baldwin books, exhibits, and other events. This essay describes the genesis of two five-part public discussions on the works of James Baldwin that were co-facilitated by African-American Studies scholar Dr. Lindsey R. Swindall and actor Grant Cooper at two schools in New York City in the 2016–17 academic year. These discussion series led to numerous Baldwin discussion events being scheduled for the winter and spring of 2018. The surprising popularity of these programs prompted Swindall to wonder: Why do people want to discuss Baldwin now? The first of two parts, this essay speculates that many people in the digital age long for a conversational space like the one Baldwin created at the “welcome table” in his last home in France. The second essay—which is forthcoming—will confirm whether discussion events held in 2018 harmonize with the welcome table thesis.

James Baldwin Review
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Voyages in Search of Love

From the time of his early adolescence until his death, traveling was one of, if not the, driving force of James Baldwin’s life. He traveled to escape, he travelled to discover, and he traveled because traveling was a way of knowing himself, of realizing his vocation.

James Baldwin Review

This piece presents a brief overview of the “James Baldwin: Transatlantic Commuter” conference, which was held at the Université Paul-Valéry, Montpellier, in Montpellier, France, from 5–7 June 2014.

James Baldwin Review
A Session at the 2019 Modern Language Association Convention

“Interventions” was the organizing term for the presentations of three Baldwin scholars at the Modern Language Association Convention in Chicago in January of 2019. Baldwin’s travels and activities in spaces not traditionally associated with him, including the U.S. South and West, represent interventions of a quite literal type, while his aesthetic and critical encounters with these and other cultures, including twenty-first-century contexts of racial, and racist, affect—as in the case of Raoul Peck’s 2016 film I Am Not Your Negro—provide opportunities to reconsider his work as it contributes to new thinking about race, space, property, citizenship, and aesthetics.

James Baldwin Review
Open Access (free)

As this essay notes, James Baldwin, his words and metaphors, pervade public space at countless numbers of intersections. Lines from his plays, novels, and essays have always been an easy and handy reference for writers and artists seeking ways to ground their intentions with deeper meaning and magic. Even in a minority opinion on 22 June 2016 written by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, she cited several authors, including Baldwin, to underscore her point on the Court’s abrogation of the Fourth Amendment.

James Baldwin Review