The Critical Reception of James Baldwin, 1963-2010

The Critical Reception of James Baldwin, 1963-2010: "An Honest Man and a Good Writer"

Conseula Francis
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 174
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt5vj7xx
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  • Book Info
    The Critical Reception of James Baldwin, 1963-2010
    Book Description:

    James Baldwin is a widely taught and anthologized author. His short story "Sonny's Blues" remains a perennial favorite in literature anthologies, and all of his essay collections and novels are still in print. His first essay collection, Notes of a Native Son, is a seminal work that led a new generation of African American writers from beneath the shadow of Richard Wright. The Fire Next Time is widely held as one of the most profound and accurate articulations of black consciousness during the Civil Rights movement. It is difficult to imagine teaching a survey of African American literature or considering the development of black intellectual thought in the twentieth century without mentioning Baldwin. For more than half a century, readers and critics alike have agreed that Baldwin is a major African American writer. What they do not agree on is why. Because of his artistic and intellectual complexity, his work resists easy categorization, and Baldwin scholarship, consequently, spans the critical horizon. Conseula Francis's book examines the major divisions in Baldwin criticism, paying particular attention to the way each critical period defines Baldwin and his work for its own purposes. Conseula Francis is Associate Professor of English and Director of African American Studies at the College of Charleston.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-895-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    It is difficult to consider a survey of African American literature or the development of black intellectual thought in the twentieth century without some mention of James Baldwin. His short story “Sonny’s Blues” remains a perennial favorite in literature anthologies and all of Baldwin’s essay collections and novels remain in print. His first essay collection,Notes of a Native Son, is a seminal work that led a new generation of African American writers out from under the shadow of Richard Wright.The Fire Next Timeis one of the most profound and accurate articulations of black consciousness during the civil...

  5. Part I
    • 1: Judging James Baldwin: 1963–73
      (pp. 7-34)

      James Baldwin published his third novel,Another Country, in 1962. The story of Rufus Scott and his intimate circle of friends, featuring numerous and constantly shifting heterosexual, homosexual, and interracial couplings,Another Countrywas greeted by critics with, at best, mixed reviews and, at worst, disgust. (It did, however, become a best-seller.) The author of the beautiful, lyricalGo Tell It on the Mountain(1953) and the piercing, soulful essays ofNotes of a Native Son(1955) andNobody Knows My Name(1961) had seemingly betrayed his audience’s trust. The homosexual themes ofGiovanni’s Room(1956) turned out not to...

    • 2: Canonizing James Baldwin: 1974–87
      (pp. 35-58)

      By 1974, the fifty-year-old Baldwin had published four collections of essays, four novels, two plays, an unfilmed screenplay, two book-length dialogues, a collection of short stories, and numerous uncollected articles, reviews, and interviews. He had also purchased the estate at St. Paul-de-Vence, France, that would become his home. While he continued to travel between the United States and Europe (referring to himself as a transatlantic commuter), from 1971 on, his stays in the United States were shorter and less frequent. And though he continued to be an active writer and was in fact quite prolific until his death in 1987,...

    • 3: Retheorizing James Baldwin: 1988–2000
      (pp. 59-78)

      By the time of Baldwin’s death from stomach cancer in 1987, there were several assumptions about James Baldwin and his work on which most Baldwin scholarship was built. There was general agreement that he was an important African American writer, though his relevance was primarily historical (that is, he wrote several seminal essays that were important at a particular point in time). Critics generally agreed that his career peaked in the mid-1960s, and that while he excelled in the essay, with the exception ofGo Tell It on the Mountainhe fell short in other genres. (Notably, there will be...

  6. Part II
    • 4: The Critical Reception of “Sonny’s Blues”
      (pp. 81-96)

      The chapters in part 1 have considered the critical reception of James Baldwin’s entire body of work. In truth, though, taking a broad view of Baldwin’s critical reception allows us to consider only a handful of the full-length works he published. As I will discuss in chapter 5, scholars have established a hierarchy of Baldwin’s works and, consequently, our understanding of Baldwin as a writer rests on the merits of a few essays and a couple of novels. If we step outside of this “canon” we find another work, Baldwin’s 1957 short story “Sonny’s Blues,” receiving considerable attention. Yet that...

    • 5: James Baldwin and the Popular Reviews
      (pp. 97-122)

      Over the course of his long and prolific career, James Baldwin published twenty-two full-length works (in addition to numerous essays, short stories, and interviews). With only a couple of exceptions, all the works were reviewed widely in mainstream, high-circulation magazines, newspapers, and journals, though they were not all well received. Though this study has considered the critical reception of Baldwin’s work, and thus has focused on critical reviews and articles in academic and scholarly publications, no such study would be complete without a consideration of popular press reviews. The reasons are twofold.

      First, many critical articles, especially at the height...

  7. Part III
    • 6: Baldwin Studies Now
      (pp. 125-144)

      Brian Norman, a prolific scholar of African American and multiethnic literature, provides a useful glimpse into contemporary Baldwin studies. Since 2005 Norman has published no fewer than five essays on Baldwin’s work, and has included Baldwin in a book-length study of the American protest essay. Norman writes aboutBlues for Mister Charliein the collectionEmmett Till in Literary Memory and Imagination(2008). He argues that, rather than shy away from difference and division, Baldwin used the play to address it head-on. The “power of the polemics ofBlues for Mister Charlie, and its moral challenge to its audience to...

  8. List of Full-Length Works by James Baldwin
    (pp. 145-146)
  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 147-160)
  10. Index
    (pp. 161-166)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 167-167)