James Baldwin Across Literary Forms
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My research focuses on the work of 20th-century American author and activist James Baldwin. Fifty years after his career started, our country is still facing a deeply troubling racial divide, and we consistently turn to Baldwin's words to reconcile this divide. I posit that this lasting political utility and cultural relevance stems from Baldwin's adaptability to the various literary forms he uses to address complex ideas around race and identity. I highlight three forms throughout my project, and analyze the ways in which Baldwin adapts the same general arguments to each. The first section, on Baldwin's Another Country, argues that the novel's central metaphor of indebtedness is crucial for understanding Baldwin's enduring approach to racial hatred. In the second section, I read two films that Baldwin appears in as extensions of his written work, and explicate the ways that these public appearances reiterate the underlying political element of his writing. The final section is on non-fiction, and here I draw comparisons between The Fire Next Time and Ta-Nahisi Coates' 2015 book Between the World and Me. The collective goal of these three sections is to illustrate Baldwin's rhetorical versatility, account for his current political utility, and redirect his value back into the literary context in which it originated.