Baldwin and the Occasion of Love

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


To be loved, baby, hard, at once, and forever, to strengthen you against the loveless world. – James Baldwin, “A Letter to My Nephew,” 1962 Love's Currency When reading James Baldwin's seminal prose, readers cannot escape the concept of love. Not only is love central to Baldwin's writing; it is central to his thinking about social change. Notably, in the proliferation of criticism on sexuality and gender, love plays little if any role in the evaluation of Baldwin's prose. This is not to say that critics never mention love. Critics casually refer to love, since it is undeniable in Baldwin's corpus, yet the silence around love's central connection to Baldwin's racial and sexual politics is both conspicuous and surprising. Baldwin is everywhere talking about love, yet critics set the topic aside. In prose masterpieces like The Fire Next Time (1968), short fiction such as Going to Meet the Man (1965), and novels like Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), Another Country (1962), and If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), love remains central. Baldwin invokes love or its explicit absence in many varieties. Baldwin repeatedly comes back to a singular emphasis: If one faces up to the most challenging truths that shape their lives, instead of keeping up a façade, one can maintain deep personal and political connections that define the basis for love. Love surfaces in a variety of guises throughout Baldwin's rich discussion of racial and sexual conflict in the United States. Baldwin writes in Another Country (1962), “How do you live if you can't love? And how can you live if you do?” Baldwin answers this question throughout his work by cultivating different sites for love – such as the family, the sexual life of married couples, or the bond between two male friends. These sites enhance Baldwin's critiques of homophobia, racial myopia, Northern white liberals, and Southern racism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin
EditorsMichele Elam
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781107337725
ISBN (Print)9781107043039
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

Publication series

NameCambridge Companions to Literature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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