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
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.
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 Tyranny of the Cityscape in James Baldwin’s Intimate
The skyline of New York projects a dominant presence in the works of James Baldwin—even
those set elsewhere. This essay analyzes the socio-spatial relationships and cognitive
maps delineated in Baldwin’s writing, and suggests that some of the most compelling and
intense portrayals of New York’s psychogeographic landscape vibrate Baldwin’s text. In The
Price of the Ticket (1985), Baldwin’s highly personalized accounts of growing up in Harlem
and living in New York map the socio-spatial relationships at play in domestic, street,
and blended urban spaces, particularly in the title essay, “Dark Days,” and “Here Be
Dragons.” Baldwin’s third novel, Another Country (1962), outlines a multistriated vision
of New York City; its occupants traverse the cold urban territory and struggle beneath the
jagged silhouette of skyscrapers. This essay examines the ways in which Baldwin composes
the urban scene in these works through complex image schemas and intricate geometries, the
city’s levels, planes, and perspectives directing the movements of its citizens. Further,
I argue that Baldwin’s dynamic use of visual rhythms, light, and sound in his depiction of
black life in the city, creates a vivid cartography of New York’s psychogeographic
terrain. This essay connects Baldwin’s mappings of Harlem to an imbricated visual and
sonic conception of urban subjectivity, that is, how the subject is constructed through a
simultaneous and synaesthetic visual/scopic and aural/sonic relation to the city, with a
focus on the movement of the body through city space.
This review article charts the general direction of scholarship in James Baldwin
studies between the years 2015 and 2016, reflecting on important scholarly
events and publications of the period and identifying notable trends in
criticism. While these years witnessed a continuing interest in the relationship
of Baldwin’s work to other authors and art forms as well as his
transnational literary imagination, noted in previous scholarly reviews, three
newly emergent trends are notable: an increased attention to Baldwin in journals
primarily devoted to the study of literatures in English, a new wave of
multidisciplinary studies of Baldwin, and a burgeoning archival turn in Baldwin
This essay presents the idea of James Baldwin as a freedom writer, the organizing idea of
my biography in progress. As a freedom writer, Baldwin was a revolutionary intellectual,
an essayist and novelist committed unfailingly to the realization of racial justice,
interracial political equality, and economic democracy. While the book is still in
process, this short essay narrates autobiographically how I came to meet and know
Baldwin’s work, explains in critical fashion my work in relation to existing biographies,
and reflects interpretively my thoughts-in- progress on this fascinating and captivating
figure of immense historical and social consequence.
The election of Barack Obama was a milestone in US history with tremendous symbolic importance for the black community. But was this symbolism backed up by substance? Did ordinary black people really benefit under the first black president? This is the question that Andra Gillespie sets out to answer in Race and the Obama Administration. Using a variety of methodological techniques—from content analysis of executive orders to comparisons of key indicators, such as homeownership and employment rates under Clinton, Bush, and Obama— the book charts the progress of black causes and provides valuable perspective on the limitations of presidential power in addressing issues of racial inequality. Gillespie uses public opinion data to investigate the purported disconnect between Obama’s performance and his consistently high ratings among black voters, asking how far the symbolic power of the first black family in the White House was able to compensate for the compromises of political office. Scholarly but accessible, Race and the Obama Administration will be of interest to students and lecturers in US politics and race studies, as well as to general readers who want to better understand the situation of the black community in the US today and the prospects for its improvement.