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.
This article delves into James Baldwin’s work and experience in the pivotal year 1968. Working with archival materials and granular contexts that are still not a full part of our understanding of Baldwin’s story, this article paints a fuller and more nuanced portrait of Baldwin’s position astraddle cultural cross-currents that were in volatile and often violent relationship to each other and at times to themselves. The “sixties” were ending in flames as Baldwin had forecast at the outset of the decade. Baldwin was based in California, often in transit to New York and London, working in ways that were at once high-profile and underground—to the extent that we’re only now seeing real evidence of some of these conversations. The result is a fuller account of how Baldwin developed and deployed his gifts with risk-taking generosity and intergenerational brilliance during one of the most volatile years of the twentieth century in the United States and beyond.