James Baldwin has come back from the dead with full force in our era of Black Lives Matter. He has become the most cited literary artist (living or dead) on matters of race on social media and in the streets since the Ferguson Uprising, his words deployed to expose white power and innocence, and to express Black ethics and rage. Decades after his death, that his words ring loud and true today is not only a testament to his genius, but, alas, also an indictment of an America republic that continues to torture and murder Black people with impunity: A country in which white supremacy still reigns king, from the White House to many a police precinct, where white lawlessness is the law. Much of the revival of Baldwin’s work has focused on the author’s civil-rights-era writings, however. As indispensable as that body of work is, it has overshadowed Baldwin’s later corpus, which issues its own aesthetic and ideological prerogative. I will consider in my presentation Baldwin’s last completed but unpublished work, The Welcome Table, a play imbued with an exquisite, quiet power emblematic of the author’s late style. Completed just months before Baldwin’s death in 1987, The Welcome Table interweaves themes of race, gender, sexuality, nationality, and exile into a rich, dramatic tapestry. Ultimately, says Baldwin of The Welcome Table, “nothing is resolved in the play. The play is simply a question posed—to all of us—‘how are we going to live; how are we going to live in this world with a vocabulary which is useless?’” A question we best heed or else hasten our collective peril.
All welcome- this seminar is free to attend, but booking in advance is required.