James Baldwin in Context: From the Cold War to Gay Liberation

Lead Research Organisation: Staffordshire University
Department Name: Faculty of Arts & Creative Technologies

Abstract

My research to date has dealt with interdisciplinary examinations of African American literature and culture, including work on the connections between Pentecostalism and jazz and research into cold war anxieties about miscegenation and homosexuality during the late 1940s and early 1950s in the U.S. My recent work on James Baldwin has focussed on the writer's Pentecostal background in order to illuminate the connections in his work between music and sexuality. I have also published on Baldwin's role as a writer and celebrity during the era of black nationalism, exploring the tensions in his work between masculinity and homosexuality.

I am eager to incorporate this material into a larger and more theoretically coherent study, ensuring that the project makes an original contribution to existing studies of Baldwin's work. My project situates Baldwin's fiction and non-fiction in the four decades out of which his writing emerged, illuminating not only Baldwin's work but showing how it responded to and anticipated contemporary interest in areas such as the transatlantic and black queer writing. My research examines Baldwin's writing in the context of the post-war liberal publications which show-cased his work, including his early US reviews and articles in New Leader and The Nation but also looks closely at Baldwin's connections to Zero, the first post-war English language literary journal in France. I will look at how Baldwin's second novel, Giovanni's Room (1956) responds to and anticipates cold war concerns about homosexuality and miscegenation and my research on Baldwin and religion will be distinguished by a close examination of Baldwin's Pentecostal past. Finally, my work on Baldwin and the transatlantic will extend recent work on Baldwin and France/ Turkey by inaugurating an examination of the author's connections to, and reception in, the United Kingdom and his writings on Africa. My analysis of Baldwin and Africa will draw on uncollected interviews in African publications and will consider his shifting relationship to the African diaspora from the 1950s to the 1970s.

In the last seven years there have been two exciting collections of essays on Baldwin (James Baldwin Now [1999] and Reviewing James Baldwin [2000]) but there is little work that contextualises Baldwin's work and no recent monograph. Lynn Orilla Scott's, James Baldwin's Later Fiction (2004) focuses on Baldwin's last three novels and Clarence Hardy's James Baldwin's God (2003) touches on Baldwin's fiction but is written from a theological perspective. The most recent single-authored work to examine all of Baldwin's fiction is Trudier Harris's Black Women in the Fiction of James Baldwin (1985). Building on my forthcoming edited collection (The Historical Guide to James Baldwin [Oxford UP, 2008]), my project will make an original contribution to work on Baldwin and post-war writing. The work will be distinguished by its original research but it will also contribute to discussions of Pentecostalism, music, the cold war and black gay writing.

In the course of my research on Baldwin I have established contacts with numerous Baldwin scholars (I have given papers at the last two international conferences on Baldwin at Howard University, Washington D.C. and Queen Mary, University of London in 2002 and 2007 respectively and will be giving a paper at the American Studies Association on Baldwin in October 2008). I have read the Baldwin papers at the Schomburg Center and I have been awarded a fellowship to the University of Indiana to view Baldwin's letters in June 2008. I have established contacts with two Baldwin biographers (David Leeming and James Campbell) who have given me access to unpublished letters and manuscripts. I have also interviewed friends of Baldwin, including Caryl Phillips, Harold Norse and Themistocles Hoetis (editor of Zero). Thus, this projecttakes Baldwin scholarship forward through the consideration of new material and approaches.

Publications

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Description I have discovered new archival material about James Baldwin and I have used the material to argue for a new way of looking at the writer, which I develop in my monograph. The book analyses the writer's life and work against the radically transformative politics of his time. The book explores under-researched areas in Baldwin's life and work-his relationship to the Left, his FBI files and the significance of Africa in his writing-while also contributing to wider discussions about post-war US culture.
Exploitation Route The book will appeal to a wide range of readers, including readers outside the academy as well as a broad range of academic readers: faculty and graduate students in American History, Political Science, English and Black Studies.
Sectors Education

 
Description In teaching, conferences and in journal articles and book chapters.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural