Literature and Theatre
James Baldwin Review editors Douglas Field and Justin A. Joyce interview author and Baldwin biographer James Campbell on the occasion of the reissue of his book Talking at the Gates (Polygon and University of California Press, 2021).
This essay explores Black queer feminist readings of the sexual politics of James Baldwin’s Another Country. Recent work at the intersection of queer of color critique and Black feminism allows us to newly appreciate Baldwin’s prescient theorization of the workings of racialized and gendered power within the erotic. Previous interpretations of Another Country have focused on what is perceived as a liberal idealization of white gay male intimacy. I argue that this approach requires a selective reading of the novel that occludes its more complex portrayal of a web of racially fraught, power-stricken, and often violent sexual relationships. When we de-prioritize white gay male eroticism and pursue analyses of a broader range of erotic scenes, a different vision of Baldwin’s sexual imaginary emerges. I argue that far from idealizing, Another Country presents sex within a racist, homophobic, and sexist world to be a messy terrain of pleasure, pain, and political urgency. An unsettling vision, to be sure, but one that, if we as readers are to seek more equitable erotic imaginaries, must be reckoned with.
Spurred on by Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Nickel Boys (2019), which is set in Tallahassee, FL, during the 1950s and 1960s, this essay presents a close-up look at James Baldwin’s visit to Tallahassee in May 1960. Moving between Baldwin’s writings about the South, especially “They Can’t Turn Back,” published by Mademoiselle magazine in August 1960, and subsequent writing about the movement in Tallahassee, and checking off against Whitehead’s fictional treatment, we find a lattice of silences obscuring the names and contributions of Black women. Most importantly, we find that the historic case of the rape of Betty Jean Owens in May 1959, and the subsequent trial that summer, appears neither in Baldwin’s nor Whitehead’s writing about Tallahassee at the time. This essay establishes the missing names of Black women in the places marked and unmarked by Baldwin in his work at the time, and puts the case of Betty Jean Owens on the historical map where it belongs. In so doing, we figure issues of race, gender, sex, and violence for the ways they twist together, ways suppressed in historical (and even some contemporary) writing, ways crucial to our deepening consideration of Baldwin’s work and the history which he drew upon and to which he contributed so profoundly.
This article provides an introduction to this special section of James Baldwin Review 7 devoted to Baldwin and film. Jackson considers Baldwin’s distinct approach to film criticism by pairing him with James Agee, another writer who wrote fiction as well as nonfiction in several genres, and who produced a large body of film criticism, especially during the 1940s. While Agee, a white southerner born almost a generation before Baldwin, might seem an unlikely figure to place alongside Baldwin, the two shared a great deal in terms of temperament and vision, and their film writings reveal a great deal of consensus in their diagnoses of American pathologies. Another important context for Baldwin’s complex relationship to film is television, which became a dominant media form during the 1950s and exerted a great influence upon both the mainstream reception of the civil rights movement and Baldwin’s reception as a public intellectual from the early 1960s to the end of his life. Finally, the introduction briefly discusses the articles that constitute this special section.
William J. Maxwell, editor of James Baldwin: The FBI File (2017), interviews Bill V. Mullen on his 2019 biography, James Baldwin: Living in Fire, along the way touching on both Baldwin’s early internationalism and his relevance to the current wave of racial discord and interracial possibility in the United States.
Reading works on Baldwin from 2017 to 2019, the author tracks the significance of Baldwin within the Black Lives Matter movement and our growing need for police reform in conjunction with a revaluation of the lives of racial and ethnic minorities within the oppressive systemic biases of American social and political life.
Recalling the insurrectionary violence that descended upon the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, reflecting on the baser instincts left unchecked in America by an absence of common communication and a paradigmatic shift in our media apparatuses, Justin A. Joyce introduces the seventh volume of James Baldwin Review.
This review essay examines Eddie Glaude, Jr.’s new book Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own against several other recent works on Baldwin such as Bill Mullen’s James Baldwin: Living in Fire and Nicholas Buccola’s The Fire Is Upon Us.
This article traces how the queer Black writer James Baldwin’s transnational palate and experiences influenced the ways he wrote about Black domestic spaces in the late twentieth century. In the 1960s and 1970s, while Black feminist cooks and writers like Edna Lewis, Jessica B. Harris, and Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor developed new theories of soul food in relation to the Black American community and broader American cuisine, Baldwin incorporated these philosophies and transnational tastes into his lifestyle and works. He traveled and worked around Europe, settling in places like Paris, Istanbul, and Saint-Paul de Vence for years at a time. In Saint-Paul de Vence, where he spent his last years, he set up his own welcome table, at which he hosted internationally renowned guests and shared his love of cuisine. Inevitably, Baldwin’s passion for cooking and hosting meals became a large, though scholarly neglected, component of his novels and essays. In his novels Another Country, which he finished in Istanbul and published in 1962, and Just Above My Head, which he finished in Saint-Paul de Vence and published in 1979, Baldwin’s depictions of food and Black kitchens take a queer turn. Instead of lingering on traditional Black family structures, these texts specifically present new formulations of intimate home life and reimagine relationships between food, kitchens, race, and sex in the late twentieth century.
James Baldwin’s writing, his persona, as well as his public speeches, interviews, and discussions are undergoing a renewed reception in the arts, in queer and critical race studies, and in queer of color movements. Directed by Raoul Peck, the film I Am Not Your Negro decisively contributed to the rekindled circulation of Baldwin across the Atlantic. Since 2017, screenings and commentaries on the highly acclaimed film have prompted discussions about the persistent yet variously racialized temporospatial formations of Europe and the U.S. Stemming from a roundtable that followed a screening in Zurich in February 2018, this collective essay wanders between the audio-visual and textual matter of the film and Baldwin’s essay “Stranger in the Village,” which was also adapted into a film-essay directed by Pierre Koralnik, staging Baldwin in the Swiss village of Leukerbad. Privileging Black feminist, postcolonial, and queer of color perspectives, we identify three sites of Baldwin’s transatlantic reverberations: situated knowledge, controlling images, and everyday sexual racism. In conclusion, we reflect on the implications of racialized, sexualized politics for today’s Black feminist, queer, and trans of color movements located in continental Europe—especially in Switzerland and France.