"If we - and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks [...] do not falter in our duty now, we may be able [...] to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world.” James Baldwin's appeal and admonition ring as true as they did in the 1960s, when the novelist became the nation's conscience - and also started to feel "like a broken record," repeating a message that white America refused to accept. The current revival of Baldwin in films, books, and documentaries such as Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me
(2015), Raoul Peck's documentary based on Baldwin’s writings, I Am Not Your Negro
(2017), Jesmyn Ward's incisive collection of essays, The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race
"(2017), and Barry Jenkins's feature film, If Beale Street Could Talk
(2018), and references by liberals and conservatives alike, signal that something is yet to be grasped in Baldwin's powerful words.
is a scholar, writer and curator who teaches at the New School in New York City, and the author of a forthcoming book on Baldwin who has published, curated events, and participated in key academic events on Baldwin's unceasing relevance over the past several years. Rich explains what it means to take Baldwin seriously today — and why his work continues to be of such powerful relevance. Rich talks with me about Baldwin's powerful and indispensable 1961 novel, Another Country
to show how Baldwin's vision can guide our actions today. He explains what it would mean to heed Baldwin's advice for the nation to finally leave its romantic adolescent delusions behind (including, I've learned in this conversation, its attachment to interracial buddy movies), and truly grow up. Special thanks to Rowan Ricardo Phillips, author of The Circuit: A Tennis Odyssey
and Heaven: Poems
, for lending his voice to some of Baldwin’s quotes.
Uli Baer is a professor at New York University. He is also the host of the excellent podcast "Think About It"