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James Baldwin's Later Fiction

Witness to the Journey

Lynn Orilla Scott

Publication Year: 2002

James Baldwin’s Later Fiction examines the decline of Baldwin’s reputation after the middle 1960s, his tepid reception in mainstream and academic venues, and the ways in which critics have often mis-represented and undervalued his work. Scott develops readings of Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Just Above My Head that explore the interconnected themes in Baldwin’s work: the role of the family in sustaining the arts, the price of success in American society, and the struggle of black artists to change the ways that race, sex, and masculinity are represented in American culture. 
     Scott argues that Baldwin’s later writing crosses the cultural divide between the 1950s and 1960s in response to the civil rights and black power movements. Baldwin’s earlier works, his political activism and sexual politics, and traditions of African American autobiography and fiction all play prominent roles in Scott’s analysis.

Published by: Michigan State University Press


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pp. v

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pp. vi-xi

In I963 my aunt, Orilla Winfield, sent me a copy of The Fire Next Time for my thirteenth birthday. I read it in the library of Headington School for Girls in Oxford, England, where I had been "exiled" for a year from my life as a teenage American girl who liked rock and roll and mini skirts, who ratted her hair and secretly smoked cigarettes. I was just beginning to learn that there were worlds very different from the one I had inhabited for ...

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pp. xii-xxx

James Baldwin (1924-1987) is one of the great twentieth-century American writers. His career was long and prolific, spanning forty years and resulting in twenty-three books published in his lifetime, along with numerous articles and interviews, many of which have not yet been collected. His books include six novels, seven collections of essays, two plays, two collections of poetry, a collection of short stories, a phototext (a col ...

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1. Baldwin’s Reception and the Challenge of His Legacy

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pp. 2-19

When James Baldwin died in 1987, five thousand people attended his funeral at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Harlem. The people came to celebrate his life and to mourn his passing because he had changed their lives; he was "quite possibly for his times their most essential interpreter."1 Literary agent Marie Brown described Baldwin's passing as "the end of an era." He was "the last survivor ... of those few ...

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2. The Celebrity’s Return: Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone

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pp. 20-61

At the end of Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone James Baldwin signs his work by listing the places and dates where it was written: "New York, Istanbul, San Francisco, 1965-1967." This journalistic signature draws attention to the autobiographical element of the novel and invites readers to understand it in its historical and political context as the ...

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3. The Artist Transformed: If Beale Street Could Talk

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pp. 62-119

If Beale Street Could Talk (1974) was published six years after Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, the year James Baldwin turned fifty. While some of the novel's thematic concerns are familiar to Baldwin readers, it represents, in several respects, a major departure from his previous novels. In contrast to the leisurely, detailed retrospective of Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, Beale Street is a slim volume, fewer than ...

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4. The Singer’s Legacy: Just Above My Head

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pp. 120-169

Just Above My Head (JAMH), published in 1979, five years after If Beale Street Could Talk, is Baldwin's last novel. It is also his longest and most ambitious work, 597 pages in the Dial Press edition. JAMH spans a time period of about thirty years, from the mid-forties to the mid-to-late seventies...

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pp. 170-173

It is my hope that this study results in an appreciation of James Baldwin's undervalued later work. His last three novels, in particular, reveal that Baldwin continued to be a profound witness to the American experience. He gave testimony to the racial struggles of the I960s and I970s by exploring the relationship between private life and political realities in ways no one has done since. As a witness he described not only the social land ...


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pp. 174-213

Works Cited

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pp. 214-225


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pp. 226-235

E-ISBN-13: 9780870139543
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870136252

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2002