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- Author: Ernest L. Gibson III x
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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.
“Rebranding James Baldwin and His Queer Others” was a session held at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association in November 2019 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The papers gathered here show how Baldwin’s writings and life story participate in dialogues with other authors and artists who probe issues of identity and identification, as well as with other types of texts and non-American stories, boldly addressing theoretical and political perspectives different from his own. Nick Radel’s temporal challenge to reading novels on homoerotic male desire asks of us a leap of faith, one that makes it possible to read race as not necessarily a synonym for “Black,” but as a powerful historical and sexual trope that resists “over-easy” binaries of Western masculinity. Ernest L. Gibson’s engagement with Beauford Delaney’s brilliant art and the ways in which it enabled the teenage Baldwin’s “dark rapture” of self-discovery as a writer reminds us that “something [has been missing] in our discussions of male relationships.” Finally, Nigel Hatton suggests “a relationship among Baldwin, Denmark, and Giovanni’s Room that adds another thread to the important scholarship on his groundbreaking work of fiction that has impacted African-American literature, Cold War studies, transnational American studies, feminist thought, and queer theory.” All three essays enlarge our assessment of Baldwin’s contribution to understanding the ways gender and sexuality always inflect racialized Western masculinities. Thus, they help us work to better gauge the extent of Baldwin’s influence right here and right now.