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Reviewed by:
  • James Baldwin Now
  • Amy Abugo Ongiri
James Baldwin Now. Ed. Dwight A. McBride. New York, NY: New York UP, 1999. x + 427 pp.

Recently cited by Crompton-Noll committee of the Modern Language Association for making an outstanding contribution to the field of lesbian and gay studies, James Baldwin Now is in many ways a groundbreaking anthology that makes important interventions across a variety of fields and disciplines. With innovative section headings such as “Baldwin and the Transatlantic,” “Baldwin and Intertextuality,” and “Baldwin and Sexuality,” which seek to defy the easy categorization of Baldwin as “black writer” or “gay writer,” the collection enriches Baldwin scholarship that has, in the words of the collection’s editor, “tended to relegate Baldwin to one or the other of these identity categories” (2). Roderick A. Ferguson’s “The Parvenu Baldwin and the Other Side of Redemption: Modernity, Race, Sexuality and the Cold War,” which won the Crompton Noll Award for “best essay in lesbian, gay, and queer studies in the modern languages,” is typical for the collection in that it not only pushes boundaries of lesbian, gay, and queer studies around the question of Baldwin’s construction of homosexual identity but also pushes for the reconceptualization of the political and ideological underpinnings of Cold War era cultural politics and the avant-garde around questions of gender and sexuality. It is this sort of disciplinary innovative and genre-exploding methodology that makes the collection indispensable as an intervention into Baldwin studies as well as a statement on the power of cultural studies work that takes its interdisciplinarity seriously.

In the introduction, McBride writes: “it seems more possible today than ever before to engage Baldwin in all the complexity he represents to critical inquiry” (2). Essays by Josh Kun, Nicholas Boggs, Lawrie Balfour, and Rebecca Arnuad utilize methodologies as diverse as music and performance theory, queer studies and theories of political economy to address topics as varied as Baldwin and listening practices, Baldwin and children’s literature, and Baldwin and “white guilt.” Essays by Sharon Patricia Holland, Marlon B. Ross and Maurice Wallace successfully revisit old territory, i.e. Baldwin’s relationship to Richard Wright and the absence of a Black queer presence in Giovanni’s Room, with startling new conclusions that should resonate importantly throughout critical race and queer theory. The collection charts the construction of African American desire in a consistently sophisticated manner and in doing so charts critical territory that has largely been insufficiently mapped until this moment. In reading each of the essays it is not hard to arrive at the sense that important work is being done not only in relationship to the work of James Baldwin but also in terms of complicating existing critical notions around the production of African American culture.

The many important critical interventions that are enabled by Baldwin’s work in the volume attest to McBride’s claim that “Baldwin has spoken to most every issue of great importance of our time” (2). Each essay is anchored in the particularity of its discipline and the volume as a whole makes an important contribution to scholarship in these fields while remaining highly accessible to students. The collection should thus be of interest to those invested in expanding the boundaries of literary studies as well as those firmly situated in the disciplines of lesbian, gay and queer studies, African American Studies, and English.

Amy Abugo Ongiri
University of California at Riverside

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