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“In a Speculative Light: The Arts of James Baldwin and Beauford Delaney,” Knoxville, Tennessee, 19–21 February 2020
D. Quentin Miller

This article is a review of a symposium entitled, “In a Speculative Light: The Arts of James Baldwin and Beauford Delaney,” held at the University of Tennessee on 19–21 February 2020.

James Baldwin Review
D. Quentin Miller

The author travels to St.-Paul-de-Vence, the site of Baldwin’s final decades, with the intention of understanding expatriation and/or exile more deeply. The intention of this visit is to fill in some of the gaps in Baldwin’s official biographies, which do not tend to dwell on his time spent in Provence as much as his time in Paris, Turkey, New York, and elsewhere. By interviewing a woman who knew Baldwin well during those years, the author manages to add new layers to his understanding of Baldwin’s late years, but finally arrives at the understanding that writing (rather than analyzing) is the main goal of the expatriate writer. Inspired by Baldwin’s muse, he stops contemplating his subject and gets to work, finally connecting the act of writing to expatriation by doing it.

James Baldwin Review
Open Access (free)
A Hollywood Love Story (as Written by James Baldwin)
D. Quentin Miller

Baldwin’s The Devil Finds Work (1976) has proven challenging since its publication because readers and critics have trouble classifying it. The challenge may be related to a common feature of Baldwin criticism, namely a tendency to compare late career works to early ones and to find them lacking: the experimental nature of later works of nonfiction like No Name in the Street (1972), The Devil Finds Work, and The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985) does not square easily with the more conventional essays that made Baldwin famous in his early years. I attempt to reframe The Devil Finds Work not through a comparison to other Baldwin essays, but rather through a comparison to his fiction, specifically the novel Giovanni’s Room. I posit that a greater appreciation for Devil can result from thinking of it as a story, specifically the story of a failed love affair.

James Baldwin Review
D.Quentin Miller

The acceleration of interest in Baldwin’s work and impact since 2010 shows no signs of diminishing. This resurgence has much to do with Baldwin—the richness and passionate intensity of his vision—and also something to do with the dedicated scholars who have pursued a variety of publication platforms to generate further interest in his work. The reach of Baldwin studies has grown outside the academy as well: Black Lives Matter demonstrations routinely feature quotations from Baldwin; Twitter includes a “Son of Baldwin” site; and Raoul Peck’s 2016 documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, has received considerable critical and popular interest. The years 2010–13 were a key period in moving past the tired old formula—that praised his early career and denigrated the works he wrote after 1963—into the new formula—positing Baldwin as a misunderstood visionary, a wide-reaching artist, and a social critic whose value we are only now beginning to appreciate. I would highlight four additional prominent trends that emerged between 2010 and 2013: a consideration of Baldwin in the contexts of film, drama, and music; understandings of Baldwin globally; Baldwin’s criticism of American institutions; and analyses of Baldwin’s work in conversation with other authors.

James Baldwin Review