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James Baldwin and the 1980s: Witnessing the Reagan Era (University of Illinois Press, 2018)

Photo credit: Sophie Bassouls

Photo credit: Sophie Bassouls

No African American literary figure is as ubiquitous in contemporary culture as James Baldwin.  In the wake of Black Lives Matter, resurgent white nationalism, and the election of Donald Trump, Baldwin’s righteous indignation and prophetic warnings speak to the urgent mood of the present; his words appear on signs at rallies, in speeches, and blogs, and on social media sites like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. This Baldwin renaissance, however, follows decades of critical dismissals and neglect — and no part of the author’s career remains more overlooked than the 1980s. James Baldwin and the 1980s: Witnessing the Reagan Era fills this gap, revealing a still-razor-sharp, provocative writer who, with the benefit of hindsight, holds up as one of the most prescient observers of the post-civil rights landscape. Indeed, contrary to the conventional narrative of his decline, Baldwin’s work in the Eighties proves remarkably engaged with the cultural milieu of a new generation, commenting on everything from the culture wars to the New South, the deterioration of inner cities to the disproportionate incarceration of black youth, the Reagan Revolution to the religious right, gender-bending in pop culture to the AIDS crisis. A groundbreaking new assessment of Baldwin in the context of the media-saturated Reagan era, James Baldwin and the 1980s offers the first in-depth study of the author’s final decade, and shows why his work from this period is so relevant to the world we live in today.

Articles on James Baldwin

“‘To Crush the Serpent’: James Baldwin, the Religious Right, and the Moral Minority.” James Baldwin Review, 2 (December 2016).

Freaks in the Reagan Era: James Baldwin, the New Pop Cinema, and the American Ideal of Manhood.” The Journal of Popular Culture, 48.3 (June 2015).