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LIVE from the NYPL: A James Baldwin Tribute: Colm Tóibín with John Edgar Wideman, Manthia Diawara, Farah Jasmine Griffin

March 18, 2008

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"Here on 42nd Street it was less elegant but no less strange," a young novelist wrote in the early fifties. "He loved this street, not for the people or the shops but for the stone lions that guarded the great main building of the Public Library, a building filled with books and unimaginably vast, and which he had never yet dared to enter." The passage is from Go Tell It on the Mountain. James Baldwin was one of many who got over their fear, their awe of the lions and the marble and the grandeur. He, too, walked in, and he left behind his books, a shelf of gifts in a palace of many millions.

David Remnick, The New Yorker,

May 22, 1995

James Baldwin was one of the great American prose stylists as well as an acute commentator on matters of race and gender. His collection of essays, The Price of the Ticket, a compendium of nearly fifty years of Baldwin's powerful nonfiction writing including Notes of a Native Son, Nobody Knows My Name, and The Fire Next Time, makes clear his wisdom and eloquence. In these personal and prophetic works, he speaks to the heart of the experience of race and identity as well as to the social interaction between the races in the United States.

In addition to Baldwin's praised work, Colm Tóibín, the author of five novels including The Master, has been looking at the large body of Baldwin's uncollected writing and speeches.

Walton Muyumba will moderate a discussion with Colm Tóibín, John Edgar Wideman, Manthia Diawara, Farah Jasmine Griffin, and Michael Thelwell examining James Baldwin?s lesser known works to cast a new light on his views on writers and writing, his politics, and his vision for the future of the United States.

photo of Colm Tóibín by Bruce Weber

About James Baldwin

James Baldwin was born in Harlem, New York City, in 1924. His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, established him as a profound and permanent new voice in American letters. "Mountain is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else," he remarked. Soon after his debut, Baldwin's play The Amen Corner was performed at Howard University and a collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son, was published. A second collection of essays, Nobody Knows My Name, was published between his novels Giovanni's Room and Another Country. The Fire Next Time, appearing just as the civil rights movement was exploding across the American South, galvanized the nation and continues to reverberate as perhaps the most prophetic and defining statement ever written of the continuing costs of Americans' refusal to face their own history. Other works include the play, Blues for Mister Charlie; a collection of short stories, Going to Meet the Man; and novels, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Just Above My Head; collections of essays, No Name in the Street, The Devil Finds Work, and The Price of the Ticket; a children's book, Little Man: A Story of Childhood; and a volume of poetry, Jimmy's Blues. Baldwin's last work, The Evidence of Things Not Seen, was prompted by a series of child murders in Atlanta. In 1986 Baldwin was made a Commander of the French Legion of Honor. Among the other awards he received are a Eugene F. Saxon Memorial Trust Award, a Rosenwald fellowship, a Guggenheim fellowship, a Partisan Review fellowship, and a Ford Foundation grant. James Baldwin died at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, on December 1, 1987.

About Manthia Diawara

Manthia Diawara is Director of NYU's Institute of Afro-American Affairs and Director of the Africana Studies Program. He is the author of We Won't Budge: An African Exile in the World, Black-American Cinema: Aesthetics and Spectatorship, African Cinema: Politics and Culture, and In Search of Africa. Diawara also collaborated with Ngûgî wa Thiong’o in making the documentary Sembene Ousmane: The Making of the African Cinema.

About Farah Jasmine Griffin

Farah Jasmine Griffin is Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African American Studies at Columbia University. She is the author of three books, "Who Set You Flowin?:" The African-American Migration Narrative; If You Can't Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday; and Clawing at the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever with Salim Washington. She has also edited and co-edited a number of volumes, including Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies. Griffin was a Fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at New York Public Library.



About Walton Muyumba

Dr. Walton Muyumba is a writer and critic whose work has been published in the The Chicago Tribune, and the Dallas Morning News. He is also a professor of American literature and African American Studies at the University of North Texas in Dallas. Dr. Muyumba's book, The Shadow and the Act: African American Intellectuals, Jazz Improvisation, and Philosophical Pragmatism is forthcoming in 2009.

related website: studio-walton muyumba



About Michael Thelwell 

Michael Thelwell was the founding chairman of the Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is the author of the novel The Harder They Come, which has become a classic of Jamaican literature; a collection of essays, Duties, Pleasures and Conflicts; and Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael, the memoir of the civil rights leader and Pan-Africanist revolutionary.




About Colm Tóibín

Colm Tóibín is the author of five novels, including The Master, which won the LA Times novel of the year in 2005, and a collection of short stories, Mothers and Sons. He is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books. He is Stein Visiting Writer at Stanford University. Tóibín was a Fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at The New York Public Library.




About John Edgar Wideman

John Edgar Wideman is the author of more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, including Brothers and Keepers, Philadelphia Fire, and the story collection God's Gym. He is the recipient of two PEN/Faulkner Awards and has been nominated for the National Book Award. He teaches at Brown University.