Film, Media and Music
Justin A. Joyce introduces the eighth volume of James Baldwin Review with a discussion of the US Supreme Court, the misdirected uproar over Critical Race Theory, a survey of canonical dystopian novels, and the symbolism of masking during COVID-19.
In this mixture of memoir, reflection, and scholarship, the author details how, during a time of suffering, James Baldwin and singer Celia Cruz helped him understand his tense relationship with his toxic paternal grandparents and celebrate the reclamation of his stifled Mexican heritage.
For several years now, James Baldwin’s life, portrait, and work have enjoyed a central place in the public eye. Although social and audiovisual media have made significant contributions to Baldwin’s return to the cultural and political limelight, the circulation of his published writings remains a vital part of the author’s ubiquity. Moreover, since Baldwin’s omnipresence in bookstores transcends an American or even Anglophone context, this international and multilingual circulation contributes to Baldwin’s world literary standing, as befits the self-described “transatlantic commuter.” This article moves beyond the customary approach to Baldwin’s published success by tracing presently circulating European translations of his work. The article examines the historical developments in Baldwin’s European circulation-through-translation from the time of his death (1987) up until the present, including brief discussions of the French, Italian, and West German translations from the 1960s onward. Of special interest are the pioneering and dominant roles that French and Italian publishers have played since the late 1990s, and the acceleration in circulation that took place across the continent in the wake of the films I Am Not Your Negro and If Beale Street Could Talk. The article concludes with a few remarks on the translation strategies of several key publishers in France, Italy, Germany, and Romania.
This article examines James Baldwin’s late text The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985) as one of his substantial attempts at “forging a new language,” which he tentatively mentions in his late essays and interviews. As an unpopular and difficult text in Baldwin’s oeuvre, Evidence carries the imprint of a new economy of time, casting the past into the present, and a new economy of space, navigating across other geographies in appraising the serial killings of children in one of Atlanta’s poorest Black neighborhoods. This article suggests that a new economy of time emerges earlier in No Name in the Street (1972), as a result of Baldwin’s self-imposed exile in Europe. The article then analyzes his spatiotemporal logic in the specifics of Evidence with reference to a Black middle class, urbanization, the ghetto, gentrification, and other colonized spaces.
The protagonists in James Baldwin’s 1957 short story “Sonny’s Blues” are constantly smiling and laughing. The story’s narrator notices these gestures and utilizes them to grasp at clarity when clarity seems out of reach. This article examines the narrator’s focus on this duo of facial expressions which reliably denote positive emotion. The relationship we maintain between our smiles and our laughter structures many of the narrator’s interactions with the story’s hero. More though, this relationship between smiles, laughter, and a kind of joy resembles the relationship Baldwin has described between the blues and the world this genre of music depicts.
The author reviews the 2021 production of James Baldwin’s play, The Amen Corner, as directed by Whitney White at Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC. After situating the experience of engaging with Baldwin’s art through a constructivist approach to art-based education and learning design, the piece turns to considering the impact of various interpretive materials and the director’s artistic vision in the production. White’s decision to include an epigraph in the production leaves a notable impact, particularly in conversation with Baldwin’s essays, “Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare” and “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity.”
This article delves into James Baldwin’s work and experience in the pivotal year 1968. Working with archival materials and granular contexts that are still not a full part of our understanding of Baldwin’s story, this article paints a fuller and more nuanced portrait of Baldwin’s position astraddle cultural cross-currents that were in volatile and often violent relationship to each other and at times to themselves. The “sixties” were ending in flames as Baldwin had forecast at the outset of the decade. Baldwin was based in California, often in transit to New York and London, working in ways that were at once high-profile and underground—to the extent that we’re only now seeing real evidence of some of these conversations. The result is a fuller account of how Baldwin developed and deployed his gifts with risk-taking generosity and intergenerational brilliance during one of the most volatile years of the twentieth century in the United States and beyond.
This article is a close analysis of Baldwin’s voice in the essay “Notes of a Native Son.” Much has been written about Baldwin’s themes, but without his singular voice, the power of his works would not endure. Through his use of diction, repetition, alliteration and assonance, scene selection, and even punctuation, Baldwin provides the reader with a transformative experience by rendering his own experience accessible. The political and the personal are inextricable, a truth made unavoidable by the way Baldwin writes as much as by the subject he chooses. Examining how he crafts his voice allows us to understand more deeply the power of “Notes of a Native Son.”
Having returned to the United States to work on his screenplay about Malcolm X, James Baldwin was interviewed for the Los Angeles Free Press in 1968. The interview offers a rare and valuable glimpse of Baldwin’s style of engagement with a new generation of radical Black activists whose current vogue Baldwin understood as valuable, whose new appraisal of history Baldwin had both helped to create and needed to learn from, and whose dangerous predicament Baldwin recognized and felt partly responsible for. Ed Pavlić provides a contextual and historical introduction to that interview, which is reproduced here with permission from the Free Press.
One theme in James Baldwin’s work that has gained increasing attention in the last quarter-century is music. What has been missing from this discussion, however, has been a thematic survey of Baldwin’s writing on music and its implications for the twenty-first century. This article focuses on select music-centered texts to examine what Baldwin’s ideas about music reveal about history in our own times. Multiple themes in his writing show how racial slavery creates—in the present tense—differences in experiences and musical expression between people constructed as Black and as white. Baldwin’s writing illuminates the significance of racial slavery in American music history even beyond genres associated with Black Americans.