Literature and Theatre
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Using political and critical theory, this article identifies in James Baldwin a model for citizenship unique to the Black artist who assumed the dual responsibilities of art practice and political activism. I engage with Baldwin’s fiction and his writing about other Black artists working in theater, film, dance, and music during the period of the civil rights movement. Across his career, Baldwin’s prevailing view was that, because of their history, Black artists have the singular, and indeed superlative, capacity to make art as praxis. Baldwin explains that the craft of the Black artist depends upon representing truths, rather than fantasies, about their experience, so that they are at once artists pursuing freedom and citizens pursuing justice. This article pays particular attention to the tension between living a public, political life and the need for privacy to create art, and ultimately the toll this takes on the citizen artist. Baldwin demonstrates how the community of mutual support he finds among Black artists aids in their survival. In his writings on Sidney Poitier and Lorraine Hansberry, his friendships with Beauford Delaney and Josephine Baker, as well as his reviews of music and literature, Baldwin assembles a collective he refers to as “I and my tribe.”
This review of the James Baldwin symposium at Virginia State University weighs the insights presented by a number of Black and white scholars, only a few of whom might be considered deeply informed about his life and legacy. Even so, the emerging thinkers provide a wealth of new and interesting perspectives on Baldwin, and the event was highlighted by Molefi Kete Asante’s critical lecture. His comments are a veritable call to arms, an invitation to Baldwin devotees to contend with his conclusions, a process which this article will begin.
Justin A. Joyce introduces the eighth volume of James Baldwin Review with a discussion of the US Supreme Court, the misdirected uproar over Critical Race Theory, a survey of canonical dystopian novels, and the symbolism of masking during COVID-19.
In this mixture of memoir, reflection, and scholarship, the author details how, during a time of suffering, James Baldwin and singer Celia Cruz helped him understand his tense relationship with his toxic paternal grandparents and celebrate the reclamation of his stifled Mexican heritage.
For several years now, James Baldwin’s life, portrait, and work have enjoyed a central place in the public eye. Although social and audiovisual media have made significant contributions to Baldwin’s return to the cultural and political limelight, the circulation of his published writings remains a vital part of the author’s ubiquity. Moreover, since Baldwin’s omnipresence in bookstores transcends an American or even Anglophone context, this international and multilingual circulation contributes to Baldwin’s world literary standing, as befits the self-described “transatlantic commuter.” This article moves beyond the customary approach to Baldwin’s published success by tracing presently circulating European translations of his work. The article examines the historical developments in Baldwin’s European circulation-through-translation from the time of his death (1987) up until the present, including brief discussions of the French, Italian, and West German translations from the 1960s onward. Of special interest are the pioneering and dominant roles that French and Italian publishers have played since the late 1990s, and the acceleration in circulation that took place across the continent in the wake of the films I Am Not Your Negro and If Beale Street Could Talk. The article concludes with a few remarks on the translation strategies of several key publishers in France, Italy, Germany, and Romania.
This article examines James Baldwin’s late text The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985) as one of his substantial attempts at “forging a new language,” which he tentatively mentions in his late essays and interviews. As an unpopular and difficult text in Baldwin’s oeuvre, Evidence carries the imprint of a new economy of time, casting the past into the present, and a new economy of space, navigating across other geographies in appraising the serial killings of children in one of Atlanta’s poorest Black neighborhoods. This article suggests that a new economy of time emerges earlier in No Name in the Street (1972), as a result of Baldwin’s self-imposed exile in Europe. The article then analyzes his spatiotemporal logic in the specifics of Evidence with reference to a Black middle class, urbanization, the ghetto, gentrification, and other colonized spaces.
The protagonists in James Baldwin’s 1957 short story “Sonny’s Blues” are constantly smiling and laughing. The story’s narrator notices these gestures and utilizes them to grasp at clarity when clarity seems out of reach. This article examines the narrator’s focus on this duo of facial expressions which reliably denote positive emotion. The relationship we maintain between our smiles and our laughter structures many of the narrator’s interactions with the story’s hero. More though, this relationship between smiles, laughter, and a kind of joy resembles the relationship Baldwin has described between the blues and the world this genre of music depicts.
The author reviews the 2021 production of James Baldwin’s play, The Amen Corner, as directed by Whitney White at Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC. After situating the experience of engaging with Baldwin’s art through a constructivist approach to art-based education and learning design, the piece turns to considering the impact of various interpretive materials and the director’s artistic vision in the production. White’s decision to include an epigraph in the production leaves a notable impact, particularly in conversation with Baldwin’s essays, “Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare” and “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity.”
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.
This article is a close analysis of Baldwin’s voice in the essay “Notes of a Native Son.” Much has been written about Baldwin’s themes, but without his singular voice, the power of his works would not endure. Through his use of diction, repetition, alliteration and assonance, scene selection, and even punctuation, Baldwin provides the reader with a transformative experience by rendering his own experience accessible. The political and the personal are inextricable, a truth made unavoidable by the way Baldwin writes as much as by the subject he chooses. Examining how he crafts his voice allows us to understand more deeply the power of “Notes of a Native Son.”