chapter talks about these politics in terms of an
African-American context is not to deny the wide-ranging and diasporic origin of
their inauguration but to concentrate on the terms of their mode of address in the
black press. The transnational structure of these writings is clear but their enunciation is
generally audience-specific in relation to addressing the contemporary experiences of black
life in the US – even amongst Caribbean-born activists. 11 While the commitment to
internationalism in these writings is
attitudes were reinforced by more practical considerations. Writing as late as 1990 the eminent AfricanAmerican historian and civil rights activist Vincent Harding reflected on the reluctance of historians to examine the cultural dimensions of the civil rights struggle in the post-1945 era. He concluded that this was because historians were too inclined to view civil rights activity in terms of conventional initiatives, such as courtroom battles, non-violent protests, electoral campaigns and efforts to secure the passage of new legislation. This margin-alized important
Contacts, translations, criticism and editorial policy
Mutual attraction between the Soviet Union and
Afro-America became apparent soon after the 1917 October revolution. For the
African-American left, Soviet Russia seemed to be a ‘promised land’ for
national and ethnic minorities and a complete contrast to the United States with its system
of segregation and discrimination. 1 As
Claude McKay put it, ‘the Russian workers, who have won through the ordeal of
persecution and revolution, extend the hand of international brotherhood to all the
If he is known for anything other than his writings, James Baldwin is best known for his
work as a civil rights activist. What is often overlooked is Baldwin’s work toward uniting
two under-represented and oppressed groups: African Americans and homosexuals. With his
first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Baldwin began a career of speaking about and for
homosexuals and their relationship with the institutions of African-American communities.
Through its focus on a sensitive, church-going teenager, Go Tell It on the Mountain
dramatizes the strain imposed upon homosexual members of African-American communities
within the Pentecostal Church through its religious beliefs.
The lesbian community of colour in America has been largely overlooked amidst the current popular culture mania for all things vampiric. Yet the complex ambiguity of the lesbian vampire very readily lends itself to women of colour, who frequently explore in their gothic fiction the intersections of gender, sexuality, race, class, assimilation, and the transgressive significance of the vampire myth. This essay discusses two works by African-American Jewelle Gomez and Chicana- American Terri de la Pena as lesbian Gothic romantic fiction, as feminist affirmation, and as prescriptive, community-building activist discourse.
Baldwin, Racial Melancholy, and the Black Middle Ground
This article uses Baldwin’s 1949 essay “Everybody’s Protest Novel” to consider that literary mode’s corollary in the 1990s New Black Cinema. It argues that recent African American movies posit an alternative to the politics and aesthetics of films by a director such as Spike Lee, one that evinces a set of qualities Baldwin calls for in his essay about Black literature. Among these are what recent scholars such as Ann Anlin Cheng have called racial melancholy or what Kevin Quashie describes as Black “quiet,” as well as variations on Yogita Goyal’s diaspora romance. Films such as Barry Jenkins’s adaptation of If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) and Joe Talbot and Jimmy Fails’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) offer a cinematic version of racial narrative at odds with the protest tradition I associate with earlier Black directors, a newly resonant cinema that we might see as both a direct and an indirect legacy of Baldwin’s views on African American culture and politics.
Readers and critics alike, for the past sixty years, generally agree that Baldwin is a
major African-American writer. What they do not agree on is why. Because of his artistic
and intellectual complexity, Baldwin’s work resists easy categorization and Baldwin
scholarship, consequently, spans the critical horizon. This essay provides an overview of
the three major periods of Baldwin scholarship. 1963–73 is a period that begins with the
publication of The Fire Next Time and sees Baldwin grace the cover of Time magazine. This
period ends with Time declaring Baldwin too passé to publish an interview with him and
with critics questioning his relevance. The second period, 1974–87, finds critics
attempting to rehabilitate Baldwin’s reputation and work, especially as scholars begin to
codify the African-American literary canon in anthologies and American universities.
Finally, scholarship in the period after Baldwin’s death takes the opportunity to
challenge common assumptions and silences surrounding Baldwin’s work. Armed with the
methodologies of cultural studies and the critical insights of queer theory, critics set
the stage for the current Baldwin renaissance.
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.
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.
The distinguished critic Professor Cheryl A. Wall (1948–2020) was the
Board of Governors Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English at Rutgers
University, New Brunswick. Her path-breaking scholarship in two highly
influential monographs, Women of the Harlem Renaissance (1995)
and Worrying the Line: Black Women Writers, Lineage, and Literary
Tradition (2005), helped to ensure that twentieth-century Black
women writers were recognized and valued for their power, genius, and
complexity. Her most recent book, On Freedom and the Will to Adorn: The
Art of the African American Essay (2018), places the essay form at
the center of African American literary achievement. Throughout her long career
she supported and enabled Black students, and championed racial diversity and
gender equality at every level of the university. An Associate Editor of
James Baldwin Review, she was the most generous and astute
of readers, as well as a wise editor. In this memorial section, fifteen
colleagues, former students, and interlocutors share their remembrances and
honor her legacy.