James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain: Historical and Critical Essays, and: James Baldwin's God: Sex, Hope, and Crisis in Black Holiness Culture (review)
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Reviewed by
Henderson, Carol E., ed. James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain: Historical and Critical Essays. New York: Peter Lang, 2006. Hardcover. 162 pp.
Hardy III, Clarence E. James Baldwin's God: Sex, Hope, and Crisis in Black Holiness Culture. Knoxville, T.N.: The U of Tennessee P, 2003. Hardcover. 147 pp.

In the last ten or so years there has been a renewed interest in the work of James Baldwin, illustrated by the recent publication of two notable collections of essays, several monographs, and the reprinting of much of the author's work in the Library of America series, edited by Toni Morrison. The recent critical attention is welcome as Baldwin's work has endured relative neglect due to many scholars' inability to place this enigmatic writer. Critics have long debated whether Baldwin's work should be viewed primarily as African American or gay, terms that the author himself questioned, preferring to be known as an American writer. There is also the question of Baldwin's legacy: most critics contend that Baldwin was a pre-eminent essayist but an inconsistent novelist, arguing that he lost his stylistic way by the mid-1960s. In recent years, however, Baldwin's writing has been reviewed and celebrated for precisely the reasons that led to his uncertain place in American literary history. Baldwin's work, which relentlessly examines the connections among race, gender, and sexuality, has become increasingly relevant as cultural and literary studies continue to emphasize the importance of viewing these categories as interdependent, rather than mutually exclusive.

James Baldwin's Go Tell it on the Mountain, first published as a special issue in the Middle-Atlantic Writers Association in June 2004 (vol 19.1), offers new readings of Baldwin's first (and most critically acclaimed) novel whilst signaling the new direction in critical writing by paying close attention to the author's interrogation of racial, gender, and sexual categories. Henderson's collection is a welcome addition in the field, not least because the last book to focus on Baldwin's first novel was published in 1996 (Trudier Harris's New Essays on Go Tell it on the Mountain). This new collection both builds on earlier work and contributes towards further scholarship in this field.

Henderson's book is divided into three sections—"National Ideals and Political Agendas," "The Politics of Sexuality, Race and Gender," and "Paradigmatic Shifts and Cultural Inventions"—presenting nine chapters from a variety of international scholars. In a lucid introduction, Henderson points out that Baldwin's protagonists, largely made up of worshippers from the "Temple of Fire Baptized," are "dispossessed and disenfranchised from mainstream America" (2). From within this marginal space, Henderson posits, Baldwin created a novel that was both political and religious. Examining the autobiographical overtones of Go Tell it, Henderson explores how the young author saw religion and writing as his "sanctuary," adding that his first novel

may well be taken as a rite of passage for Baldwin, a literary "threshing" of the ghosts of a father who used religion to abuse and misuse his family, and a spiritual exorcism of the residue of self-hatred that diminishes Baldwin's potential for reconciling body to soul.

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In "Duplicity, Purity and Politicized Morality: Go Tell it on the Mountain and the Emergence of the Civil Rights Movement," Brian J. Norman contends that Baldwin's novel "deserves a central status as a pretext for the successful emergence of the American Civil Rights movement" (13). Examining Go Tell it in the context of Baldwin's involvement in Civil Rights during the 1960s and the critical history of his first novel, Norman argues that Go Tell it explores the politicalization of the black church, urging a re-examination of the relationship between politics and theology. William Spurlin's "Go Tell it on the Mountain and Cold War Tropes of National Belonging: Homoerotic Desire and the Redeployment of Betrayal under Black Nationalism," reads the novel in the context of a cold war discourse that conflated communism with homosexuality, exploring how Baldwin's sexuality ostracized him from involvement in later black radical politics.

Babacar M'Baye's "African Retentions in Go Tell...


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