James Baldwin, a Harlem native who died in 1987, would have turned 90 on Saturday. Among the many tributes in a year in which his legacy as a major writer is being celebrated, one on Saturday is close to home: a portion of East 128th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue, will be renamed James Baldwin Way.
Baldwin, whose classic works include the novel “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and the essay collections “The Fire Next Time” and “Notes of a Native Son” attended Public School 24 (now the Harlem Renaissance School) on that block. Nearby, the marquee of the Apollo Theater, at 253 West 125th Street, is scheduled to read “Happy 90th Birthday James Baldwin.”
“We’re reclaiming him as a son of Harlem,” said Rich Blint, a Baldwin scholar and associate director in the Office of Community Outreach and Education at the Columbia University School of the Arts. The university, along with Harlem Stage and New York Live Arts, is participating in a citywide consideration of Baldwin.
In this year of all things Baldwin, some fans and scholars have expressed concern that his complex presence is fading in too many high schools. “We want to reintroduce his contemporary relevance,” said Trevor Baldwin, a nephew who will attend the Saturday festivities.
The writer was known for fiery works about race and for frank portrayals of sexuality, in novels like “Giovanni’s Room” and “Another Country,” as well as for his work in the civil rights movement.
“I want people to be interested in the courage of his life choices,” Trevor Baldwin said.
The street renaming will conclude with a musical procession to the National Black Theater at 2031 Fifth Avenue, between 125th and 126th Streets, with readings from “The Fire Next Time” and testimonials from those who knew Baldwin.
This man and his words are so important and continue to inspire me. Favourite Baldwin book?