James Baldwin Review is a key sponsor of the 2020 Conference on James Baldwin. This is the first in a series of dialogues with people and insitutions instrumental in this gathering.
JBR is an annual journal that brings together a wide array of peer‐reviewed critical essays and creative non-fiction on the life, writings, and legacy of James Baldwin. In addition to these cutting-edge contributions, each issue contains a review of recent Baldwin scholarship and an award-winning graduate student essay. James Baldwin Review publishes essays that invigorate scholarship on James Baldwin; catalyze explorations of the literary, political, and cultural influence of Baldwin’s writing and political activism; and deepen our understanding and appreciation of this complex and luminary figure.
Shannon Cain, La Maison Baldwin: James Baldwin Review was a very early supporter of our idea to hold a Baldwin conference in St Paul in 2020. Your endorsement and financial commitment is really what has made this gathering possible. What led JBR to throw its support behind a conference in St Paul de Vence?
Justin A. Joyce, James Baldwin Review: We are eager to support the gathering in St. Paul de Vence for three reasons. First, a Baldwin conference has been overdue for a few years now. The last gathering of Baldwin scholars was held in Paris in 2016; there was some conversation about a gathering in Istanbul in 2018, but that conference never materialized. Many of the scholars working on Baldwin based in the United States often find that despite the surge in public interest in Baldwin’s life and works, the conventional conferences here provide scant coverage of Baldwin scholarship. As but one example, the Modern Language Association conference in Seattle in 2020 only had one panel on Baldwin. A gathering dedicated solely to James Baldwin, therefore, represents a unique opportunity for this community of scholars and artists to come together and present their work and ideas.
Secondly, St. Paul de Vence was a special place for Baldwin’s own life. A conference held in the town of his last home is therefore a unique place for people to come together. Third, James Baldwin Review is dedicated to being an interdisciplinary, international forum for studying Baldwin and a conference in France is an ideal spot for many European scholars that might not be able to make the trip to the United States. While these three reasons primarily drove our decision, it must also be said that a gathering in the south of France in June holds a distinctive charm that was hard to resist.
MB. JBR has been involved in several Baldwin conferences over the years. This will be the seventh such gathering since 2000. How have these conferences evolved since then and what further changes do you anticipate this year?
JBR: There has been a very palpable resurgence of interest in Baldwin in recent years—since roughly 2000—that still seems ongoing. While many of the earliest conferences brought together a small cadre of academics whose scholarship primarily focused on Baldwin, with each gathering the audience grows. As more and more people come to Baldwin, the perspectives and approaches they bring to his work continue to broaden as well.
As the only journal dedicated to the life, works, and legacies of James Baldwin, James Baldwin Review is surely hopeful that this momentum will continue. We are excited about the possibilities of dynamic intellectual and artistic exchange promised by this year’s gathering that has actively courted a diverse audience of academics, activists, and artists. While these groups are often targeted separately, bringing them together under the banner of James Baldwin is not only a fitting tribute to Baldwin’s own interdisciplinary works and perspectives, but it is also a rare opportunity for each of us to grow from the juxtaposition of one another’s perspectives.
MB: Five of the 44 conference panels and discussions are sponsored by JBR. (One of your sessions, by the way— The Political Baldwin: a conversation with William J Maxwell and Douglas Field, panel #7– is currently polling at #1 in our survey of registered participants!) Can you tell us about the panels on the JBR track and why they were selected for your special lineup?
JBR: James Baldwin Review is committed to publishing a variety of essays on Baldwin. In addition to traditional scholarly essays, we’ve published an array of interviews, journalistic pieces, adapted speeches, and multimedia works. When selecting panels to sponsor for the St. Paul conference, our selection committee tried to amass a similar mixture. We also sought to bring together scholars from areas—like Poland and Belarus—that aren’t normally represented in scholarship on an American writer.
We looked to present panels that focused on the history and contextual details of Baldwin’s own life and are excited to be featuring two such panels: “Baldwin’s Last Decades and the Perils of Celebrity”, and “Sex, Drugs, and All that Jazz: James Baldwin and the Rise of U.S. Countercultures.” As Baldwin was primarily known for his written works, we also selected panels that look very closely at the aesthetic choices and artistry within his works, like “A New Vision of Black: A Critical and Creative Appraisal of Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood.” This unique book in Baldwin’s oeuvre is almost entirely ignored in extant scholarship, and we hope this panel will usher in new explorations of Little Man, Little Man and other under-studied works by Baldwin.
Part of the resurgence in interest in Baldwin is surely his ongoing relevance to today’s artistic and political urgencies. For this reason, we are excited to be sponsoring two such panels, “Reappraising Baldwin’s Europe,” and, of course, the conversation between JBR editor Douglas Field and William J. Maxwell, editor of James Baldwin: The FBI File.
Shannon Cain is coordinating the 2020 Conference on James Baldwin. Justin A. Joyce is the Managing Editor for James Baldwin Review. You can purchase print editions of the journal from Manchester University Press, and you can register for the conference here.