Topics in American Literature: James Baldwin Now


This class will examine why James Baldwin, buried in 1987, is easy to mistake for one of today's most vital young American authors. An inexhaustible public witness and the author of poems, plays, essays, novels, and short stories, the Harlem-born Baldwin ranks with the most daring and eloquent American voices of the twentieth century. His first novel, the autobiographical "Go Tell It on the Mountain" (1953), wrestled with the heritage of Black Christianity and Depression-era Black social realism. His second novel, "Giovanni's Room" (1956), set in Paris and peopled with non-black characters, explored the complexity of same-sex desire years before the Stonewall riots announced the gay rights movement. "Notes of a Native Son" (1955), the first collection of Baldwin's lush and searching essays, is perhaps the most-tweeted book of our era and is listed among the Modern Library's top twenty nonfiction books of the twentieth century. Our reading list will contain all of these books, but we'll end with a sequence of texts revealing various facets of Baldwin's resurrected meaning in the era of Black Lives Matter: Ta-Nehisi Coates's memoir "Between the World and Me" (2015), an extended conversation with Baldwin's Civil Rights classic "The Fire Next Time" (1963); Raoul Peck's documentary "I Am Not Your Negro" (2017) and Barry's Jenkins' 2018 feature film of Baldwin's 1974 novel "If Beale Street Could Talk," each drawing from Baldwin's second career as a TV-ready professor-prophet; and, finally, Eddie Glaude Jr.'s "Begin Again" (2020), a study of Baldwin's post-Civil Rights disillusionment that conducts a running argument with post-Obama Afropessimism. Altogether, then, this will be a single-author seminar on a singular author whose life after death illuminates crucial issues in Black cultural politics in both the 20th and 21st centuries. Satisfies the Twentieth Century and later requirement. This course may fulfill the global or minority literatures requirement for students w
Course Attributes: EN H; AS HUM; AS SD I; FA HUM; EL TC; EL GML

Section 01

Topics in American Literature: James Baldwin Now - 01
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