2:19 pm - 08/02/2014

Honoring James Baldwin’s 90th Birthday in Harlem

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.

mjfan4lyfe 2nd-Aug-2014 01:48 pm (UTC)
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.

I purposely chose to read 'go tell it on the mountain' in high school, no one else in my class did

It makes me sad to hear he isn't being presented up there with the classics...but we know why
mammary_glands 2nd-Aug-2014 01:56 pm (UTC)
we definitely know why, and it's two-fold (that blackness, that queerness)

give me baldwin over the steinbecks and salingers any day.
the4thjuliek 2nd-Aug-2014 01:57 pm (UTC)
IA. Baldwin anyday over Steinbeck, the most overrated writer of all time.
mjfan4lyfe 2nd-Aug-2014 02:00 pm (UTC)
yep exactly!
massivityman 2nd-Aug-2014 03:45 pm (UTC)
Salinger was a one hit wonder and Steinbeck's prose was too flat. Baldwin beats Salinger on quantity and Steinbeck on quality.
20727 2nd-Aug-2014 08:22 pm (UTC)
He wasn't though... His short stories are much better than catcher ...
massivityman 2nd-Aug-2014 03:43 pm (UTC)
The teachers teach what their teachers taught - they should be more willing to read outside the canon.
20727 2nd-Aug-2014 08:26 pm (UTC)
I can't believe my highschool English teacher- who had a phd in eng - taught heart of darkness with no discussion of Achebe 's critique. High school teachers are such embarrassments
massivityman 3rd-Aug-2014 12:32 pm (UTC)
Maybe that's why a Ph'd was teaching in high school. My high school history teacher also had a doctorate and he was great... if you weren't offended by his un-PC sense of humor.
aquomosis 2nd-Aug-2014 02:03 pm (UTC)
I've been trying to start read 'go tell it on the mountain' for like 6 months. I just can't get into it. It's horrible because its a book I want to love but I can't bring myself to dive in
nyse 2nd-Aug-2014 02:46 pm (UTC)
Don't beat yourself up. You might have to come back to it at a later time. The first Baldwin book I read was Giovanni's Room, and it's one of my favorite books of all time. I only picked that one first because of fly-away comment in the movie Capote that referenced this book so it my piqued my interest.

I also purchased Another Country which I'll read some time this year.
massivityman 2nd-Aug-2014 03:45 pm (UTC)
I thought his essays were fascinating, especially "The Devil Finds Work" about movies. Maybe you should start there.

Edited at 2014-08-02 03:47 pm (UTC)
ellesmereisland 2nd-Aug-2014 06:12 pm (UTC)
I second the recommendation to start with Giovanni's Room. I think it's a great place to start with Baldwin.
bunica1990 2nd-Aug-2014 02:10 pm (UTC)
I've only read Giovanni's Room, but I'm excited to try more of his books.
venuswaltz 2nd-Aug-2014 02:13 pm (UTC)
Read The Fire Next Time as part of my Uni course and loved it. Need to read more of his stuff.
bbsoccernona 2nd-Aug-2014 02:14 pm (UTC)
i wish baldwin was pushed on us in high school. the only book about racial issues by a poc was frederick douglass

anyway, the fire next time was a defining part of my college experience
massivityman 2nd-Aug-2014 03:50 pm (UTC)
It was his essay "The Devil Finds Work" that most rocked my world; as a white man I found it a shock to my worldview to read his opinions about "Guess Whose Coming to Dinner" and other such movies.
_xaipe_ 2nd-Aug-2014 02:15 pm (UTC)
I was never a big literature fan in high school (or college, for that matter) but James Baldwin was one of the very writers whom I read that completely blew me away. His writing was so smart, honest and moving.

That he isn't required reading in American high schools is pretty pathetic.
massivityman 2nd-Aug-2014 03:51 pm (UTC)
Maybe English teachers in high schools should coordinate better. After all, we're in high school for four years. We don't need to read Shakespeare every time.
_xaipe_ 2nd-Aug-2014 06:05 pm (UTC)
amen to that
magicpebble 2nd-Aug-2014 02:29 pm (UTC)
So glad my AP English teacher had us read The Fire Next Time in high school. That is definitely a book that has stayed with me a long time. I can't believe Baldwin isn't required reading.
nyse 2nd-Aug-2014 02:50 pm (UTC)
Reading Giovanni's Room had a pretty profound effect on me. I don't read for pleasure nearly as often as I'd like, but I LOVE Baldwin's writing style. It completely envelops and gives me the feeling of floating.

queenspencer 2nd-Aug-2014 02:56 pm (UTC)
My seminar in college was on James Baldwin. It was really interesting. My Professor worked with him and knew him pretty well. She had all these amazing stories about him.
massivityman 2nd-Aug-2014 03:52 pm (UTC)
You're pretty lucky. I've rarely had teachers who actually knew the writers we were talking about.
massivityman 2nd-Aug-2014 03:42 pm (UTC)
My take home lesson from reading his essays was that the oppressed understand the oppressors better than the other way around. The oppressed have to understand the oppressor as a matter of survival. The oppressed cannot afford to understand the oppressed, because then they could not justify oppression.
TheReinventions 2nd-Aug-2014 03:55 pm (UTC)
I love, love, love James Baldwin. We read "Jimmy's Blues" in one of my English classes, and my professor mentioned "Giovanni's Room." It piqued my interest and since then, I have become a fan. I loved "Another Country," as well.

James Baldwin is so fucking underrated. I side-eye anybody who have never heard of him.
justkeepworking 2nd-Aug-2014 04:36 pm (UTC)
Everything I read or hear from this man blows me away. I have read one of his full length books.
caitiecait 2nd-Aug-2014 05:42 pm (UTC)
I love Baldwin's books. I wish more people would read his stuff.
starlicious_dee 2nd-Aug-2014 05:45 pm (UTC)
If Beale Street Could Talk is one of my favorite books of all time.
I've never read any other Baldwin's books, but I will this winter ( when I do most of my reading).
kwikimart 2nd-Aug-2014 06:25 pm (UTC)
I love him, he was incredible
nene718 2nd-Aug-2014 06:39 pm (UTC)
this king
arisingphoenix 2nd-Aug-2014 07:55 pm (UTC)
He was required reading in college and I fell in love. We got to have a presentation/ Q&A Session with one of his close friends who worked for hi. And became his biographer and it made me appreciate him even more. Giovanni's Room is one of my favorites of all time. It hit me at a time I needed it. He was a brilliant and fascinating man, his stuff should be required at some point in everyone's life.
prophecypro 2nd-Aug-2014 11:22 pm (UTC)
One of the most advanced writers of black literature and really all of literature. Sadly it seems that he has being swept under the rug too much as time goes by for his important work and that shouldn't be
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