Showing posts from 2021

An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis

Thursday 6th May  |  5:30-7:00pm BST  | Zoom  Our penultimate meeting will look at James Baldwin's 1971 open letter , published in The New York Review, to Angela Davis. The letter was written by Baldwin to an imprisoned Davis in 1970, where she was being wrongfully held in relation to a courtroom shooting in California where three men and a judge died. She was acquitted in a federal trial in 1972. The letter is written in solidarity with Davis and addresses being black in America, American whiteness, intergenerationality and the American prison system. If you would like to hear Baldwin read the letter, it is available here (from 15:21 on). Alongside the letter, we have chosen to discuss a short section of  Are Prisons Obsolete? (2003) by Angela Davis.   In the second chapter, titled 'Slavery, Civil Rights, and Abolitionist Perspectives Toward Prison' (pp. 22-39), Davis contextualises her discussion of prisons within the history of antiblack racism and injustice in the US, f

Guest Seminar with Dagmawi Woubshet

  Thursday 15th April  |  5:30-7:00pm BST  | Zoom  For this session, we’re very excited to be joined by a special guest speaker – Professor Dagmawi Woubshet! He is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. He has published work on James Baldwin, and taught a module at the University centred on his work. He will be chairing our next meeting, and has selected Little Man Little Man: A Story of Childhood (1976) as the focus of our discussion.  A lesser-known and discussed text, Little Man Little Man is Baldwin’s only children’s book. According to his niece Aisha Karefa-Smart, Baldwin was motivated to write a book that ‘dealt with the realities of black childhood’. The story follows TJ, a four-year-old boy, as he navigates the streets of Harlem with his friends, WT and Blinky. Along the way, he encounters various characters that live in the neighbourhood. Initially met with mixed reviews and then out-of-print for roughly four decades, the book has now been republ

Everybody's Protest Novel

Thursday 11 th March | 5:30-7pm GMT | Zoom   In this session we will consider the protest novel as a genre, beginning with Baldwin’s thoughts from his essay ‘Everybody’s Protest Novel’ , published in Notes of a Native Son in 1955. In this essay, he examines the flaws in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin , arguing that it adopts an overly simplistic view of complex racial issues. He then goes on to argue that this is also true of Richard Wright’s novel Native Son . This essay, along with another essay in that same collection (‘Many Thousands Gone’) were partly responsible for a rift between Baldwin and Wright which continued until Wright’s death.   Alongside ‘Everybody’s Protest Novel’, we will then read an essay by Richard Wright, ‘How Bigger Was Born’ , which looks at the motivations behind his writing of Native Son . We will consider whether Baldwin’s comments on the novel seem justified in light of this, and what a successful protest novel might look like.   Th

Valentines Special! Giovanni's Room and 'Here be Dragons'

Thursday 18th February  | 5:30-7pm GMT  | Zoom For our Valentine's week special on Thursday 18th February, we are reading two chapters of Baldwin's 1956 novella Giovanni's Room .  The novella, in non-linear style, narrates the powerful and tragic love story of David, an American in Paris, and Giovanni, an Italian bartender.  We will be reading the second and third chapters of the text.  Chapter 2 sees David recall himself and his friend Jacques as they visit a gay bar, where they meet Giovanni for the first time.  Chapter 3 narrates the continuation of this evening into the morning as the group arrive at a different bar.  While the evening ends with David inside Giovanni's room for the first time, the chapter ends with David, alone in a house in the south of France, contemplating Giovanni's current situation in prison.   With Giovanni's Room we are pairing Baldwin's essay 'Here be Dragons' .  This essay was originally titled 'Freaks and the Ame

The Devil Finds Work and the Banality of Evil

Thursday 28th January | 5:30-7:00pm | Zoom In our first session of 2021, we turn to ‘Where the Grapes of Wrath are Stored’ (1975), the closing section of James Baldwin’s book of film criticism The Devil Finds Work . Baldwin discusses the process of writing his never-realised Malcolm X screenplay, as well as the fabrication of Billie Holiday’s life in Lady Sings the Blues (1972). In the final paragraphs, Baldwin moves away from biopics to interrogate the iconic horror film The Exorcist (1973).  Baldwin describes ‘the most terrifying thing’ about The Exorcist as being the ‘mindless and hysterical banality of the evil presented’. ‘Banality of evil’ inevitably invokes Hannah Arendt’s coining of the phrase in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). However, Baldwin and Arendt conceptualise evil as banal in alternative ways. To illuminate these differences, we will be pairing Baldwin with Judith Butler’s 2011 reading of Arendt in The Guardian .  Don’t feel that you