Part one of my two articles about facilitating community discussions about race and American culture through the life and writing of James Baldwin has just been published in the international journal James Baldwin Review (Manchester University Press, UK). It was truly a joy to work with the editors at JBR on my piece “There is No Texting at James Baldwin’s Table.”
This article is the product of several years of work starting with a grant from Humanities New York for an adult reading and discussion group on Baldwin and leading to a program with the New Jersey Council for the Humanities’ Public Scholars Project. Over the past two years, my co-facilitor Grant Cooper and I have been engaging the public through Baldwin’s writing. As the number of our events on Baldwin grew, the editors of JBR generously suggested that I write two articles in order to assess the public response to Baldwin we encountered as we talked with audiences around New York City and across the state of New Jersey.
Upon embarking on this project, we never could have predicted how current events like the 2016 presidential election, Raoul Peck’s film about Baldwin, Colin Keapernick’s protest, uproar over Confederate monuments, and a myriad of other issues would touch people and subsequently animate our conversations. Baldwin understood that love can transform our broken, yet potentially extraordinary, society if we allow it to do its refining work. I have been continuously grateful to bear witness to the sincerity and authenticity which our audiences have brought to our discussions. These are cornerstones of love’s power.
“Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.” James Baldwin in “In Search of a Majority”