Fall 2023

James Baldwin

Listed in: Black Studies, as BLST-360  |  English, as ENGL-360


Frank Leon Roberts (Section 01)


(Offered as ENGL 360 and BLST 360) This course explores the life and writings of American author James Baldwin. Born in poverty-stricken Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance (where he spent his childhood as a Pentecostal boy-preacher), Baldwin went on to become one of the twentieth century’s most influential essayists, novelists, orators, and political commentators---particularly around issues related to American race relations. Unapologetically black, queer, and radical—Baldwin’s writings have become a source of resurgent public interest, particularly in the wake of today’s turbulent U.S. political climate. In this course we will study key moments in Baldwin’s oeuvre and situate the author’s work in a variety of relevant historical “contexts” (such as in the contexts of the American civil rights movement; the black power movement; the gay liberation movement, and the contemporary movement for black lives). We will pay particular attention to reoccurring themes that sit at the center of Baldwin’s political philosophy including: the power of love as an animating force for social transformation; the resilient nature of black resistance; the role and responsibility of artists- as-troublemakers; the limitations of white “ally-ship,” the dangers (and creative possibilities) of organized religion; and the ongoing “problem” of global white supremacy. In addition, we will place Baldwin’s writings in conversation with the voices of some of his contemporaries and literary progeny. One primary concern will be how to place Baldwin’s writings in conversation with current debates about race, gender, sexuality, and politics in contemporary America. Why does Baldwin’s work seem to resonate so forcefully with the social justice concerns of today— and to what ends?

Fall semester. Professor Roberts.

How to handle overenrollment: null

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Emphasis on written work including weekly journal entries, readings, oral presentations, active in-class verbal participation, group work, in-class quizzes or exams, field work or trips, visual analysis, aural analysis, dramaturgical analysis, performance analysis.


2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023