Venue: Brandon Room, Black Community Services Center, Stanford main campus.
Speaker: Michele Elam is Professor of English, Olivier Nomellini Family University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, and Director of the Graduate Program in Modern Thought and Literature (MTL), Stanford University.
Description: “James Baldwin: A People’s Prophet”
“If history were past, history wouldn’t matter. History is the present…You and I are history. We carry our history. We act our history.”—Baldwin with Margaret Mead, A Rap on Race (1971).
Black, gay and gifted, James Baldwin was one of the most important writers and provocative cultural critics of the twentieth century. Hailed as a “spokesman for the race,”—featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 1963 as the fierce new voice of Black America—Baldwin in fact eschewed titles and classifications of all kinds, refusing even to be called a “civil rights activist” (arguing one’s civil rights should be a given, to be claimed not petitioned for). This talk examines how the prolific author of some of the century’s most influential novels, essays, and plays navigated the tensions between art and politics, and, drawing on documentary film clips and audio of Baldwin, suggests how he represents the kind of deeply ethical and socially-engaged artist so necessary for our contemporary moment.