A scholar uses James Baldwin’s home in the south of France as a framework for addressing “the need for new interpretations” of the author’s life and writings.
Why is it, asks Zaborowska (Afroamerican and American Studies/Univ. of Michigan, James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade, 2009, etc.), that there is no museum or archive dedicated to Baldwin? She finds this oversight shocking, especially given that Yale recently bought the papers of Jonathan Lethem, “a writer whose achievement and importance are clearly nowhere near Baldwin’s” and whose archive includes “a trove of drunken drawings of ‘vomiting cats.’ ” Zaborowska tries to correct the imbalance with this book. Her initial focus is Chez Baldwin, the house in St. Paul-de-Vence where Baldwin lived from 1971 until his death in 1987, and the works he wrote there. She recounts visits to Baldwin’s home, including a 2014 stop when, “despite James’s dying wish to preserve it as a retreat for African Diaspora writers,” developers bulldozed the decaying property and “erected large, colorful billboards advertising soon-to-be-built luxury villas.” Zaborowska also notes the significant distinction that Baldwin, who lived most of his life outside the United States, makes between house and home: “His vision of America as a national house is far from optimistic, and his glimpses of private home spaces where those who do not fit normative narratives may find shelter are rarely lasting.” The second half of this book is devoted to multipage analyses of Baldwin’s late works, including If Beale Street Could Talk, The Devil Finds Work, and his final, unperformed play The Welcome Table. The book has its share of academic prose—e.g., “Baldwin’s representations of domesticity in Just Above [My Head] triangulate the notions of space, self, and story to build revolutionary shelters for non-normative black bodies”—but Zaborowska’s readings into Baldwin’s work are thoughtful and illuminating.
An opinionated and passionate book on one of the 20th century’s most important writers.