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James Baldwin’s American South
Jeff Fallis

James Baldwin has frequently been written about in terms of his relationship to geographical locations such as Harlem, Paris, St. Paul-de-Vence, Istanbul, and “the transatlantic,” but his longstanding connection to the American South, a region that served as a vexed and ambiguous spiritual battleground for him throughout his life and career, has been little discussed, even though Baldwin referred to himself as “in all but no technical legal fact, a Southerner.” This article argues that the South has been seriously underconsidered as a major factor in Baldwin’s psyche and career and that were it not for the challenge to witness the Southern Civil Rights movement made to Baldwin in the late 1950s, he might never have left Paris and become the writer and thinker into which he developed. It closely examines Baldwin’s fictional and nonfictional engagements with the American South during two distinct periods of his career, from his first visit to the region in 1957 through the watershed year of 1963, and from 1963 through the publication of Baldwin’s retrospective memoir No Name in the Street in 1972, and it charts Baldwin’s complex and often contradictory negotiations with the construction of identity in white and black Southerners and the South’s tendency to deny and censor its historical legacy of racial violence. A few years before his death, Baldwin wrote that “[t]he spirit of the South is the spirit of America,” and this essay investigates how the essential question he asked about the region—whether it’s a bellwether for America’s moral redemption or moral decline—remains a dangerous and open one.

James Baldwin Review
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Space and the Speculative in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”
Maleda Belilgne

In a 1961 interview with the journalist Studs Terkel, James Baldwin offered a riveting assessment of Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues.” “It’s a fantastic kind of understatement,” Baldwin tells Terkel. “It’s the way I want to write.” Baldwin hears something in Bessie, a sonic and discursive quality he aspires to and identifies as “fantastic.” This essay considers the speculative undertones of Bessie’s blues and Baldwin’s literary realism. I argue that Bessie’s doubled vocalization in “Backwater Blues” lyrically declares her immobility and circumscription, while tonally staging freedom and boundlessness. Baldwin is drawn to this dual orientation and enunciation, a vocalization that in its iteration of the real transcends the social, spatial, and imaginative limitations of that order. If we read “Sonny’s Blues” the way Baldwin hears Bessie, as a fantastic kind of understatement, we discern subtle sonic and spatial iterations of the irreal. Attending to microtonal sounds in “Sonny’s Blues”—screams, whistling, jukeboxes—I show that the speculative emerges in Baldwin’s story when the sonic overrides the racialized inscription of space.

James Baldwin Review
Lindsey R. Swindall

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
Ernest L. Gibson III

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
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.

James Baldwin Review
James Baldwin and Fritz Raddatz
Gianna Zocco

When James Baldwin in No Name in the Street discusses the case of Tony Maynard, who had been imprisoned in Hamburg in 1967, he emphasizes that his efforts to aid his unjustly imprisoned friend were greatly supported by his German publishing house Rowohlt and, in particular, by his then-editor Fritz Raddatz (1931–2015). While the passages on Maynard remain the only instance in Baldwin’s published writings in which Raddatz—praised as a courageous “anti-Nazi German” and a kindred ally who “knows what it means to be beaten in prison”—is mentioned directly, the relation between Baldwin and Raddatz has left traces that cover over fifty years. The African-American writer and Rowohlt’s chief editor got to know each other around 1963, when Baldwin was first published in Germany. They exchanged letters between 1965 and 1984, and many of Raddatz’s critical writings from different periods—the first piece from 1965, the last from 2014—focus of Baldwin’s books. They also collaborated on various projects—among them a long interview and Baldwin’s review of Roots—which were all published in the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit, where Raddatz served as head of the literary and arts sections from 1977 to 1985. Drawing on published and unpublished writings of both men, this article provides a discussion of the most significant facets of this under-explored relationship and its literary achievements. Thereby, it sheds new light on two central questions of recent Baldwin scholarship: first, the circumstances of production and formation crucial to Baldwin’s writings of the 1970s and 1980s, and secondly, Baldwin’s international activities, his transcultural reception and influence.

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
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
An Interview with Raoul Peck
Leah Mirakhor

I Am Not Your Negro (2016) takes its direction from the notes for a book entitled “Remember this House” that James Baldwin left unfinished, a book about his three friends—Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.— their murders, and their intertwining legacies. The film examines the prophetic shadow Baldwin’s work casts on twentieth- and twenty-first-century American politics and culture. Peck compiles archival material from Baldwin’s interviews on The Dick Cavett Show, his 1965 Cambridge lecture, and a series of banal images indexing the American dream. Juxtaposed against this mythology is footage of Dorothy Counts walking to school, the assassination of black leaders and activists, KKK rallies, and the different formations of the contemporary carceral state. Our conversation examines Peck’s role as a filmmaker and his relationship with the Baldwin estate. Additionally, we discussed a series of aesthetic choices he fought to include in the film’s final cut, directing Samuel L. Jackson as the voice for the film, the similarities and shifts he wanted to document in American culture since the 1960s, and some of the criticism he has received for not emphasizing more Baldwin’s sexuality.

James Baldwin Review
Justin A. Joyce

No Abstract

James Baldwin Review