Chez Baldwin Writer's House Digital Collection

Chez Baldwin upstairs window

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James Arthur Baldwin (1924-87) was a Civil Rights Movement activist, a prominent African American intellectual, and one of the most important twentieth-century U.S. writers. Having grown up poor in Harlem, he left the United States for Paris in 1948; he traveled widely and resided in Turkey throughout the 1960s, returning to France to spend his last sixteen years (1971-87) in a sprawling Provençal house in the village of St. Paul-de-Vence. An organic part of his art, "Chez Baldwin," as it was then known, inflected his autobiographical writings and letters and shaped settings, characters, and narrators in his important, still under-researched, later works: the young adult novel, If Beale Street Could Talk (1974); the pioneering essay collection on cinema and popular culture, The Devil Finds Work (1976); his last novel spanning Harlem, the American South, and Europe, Just above My Head (1979); the essay- reportage on Black children's murders in Atlanta, The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985); and his last, unpublished play, The Welcome Table (1987). The house became an international social hub where great African American and diaspora artists like Josephine Baker, Caryl Phillips, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Vertamae Grosvenor, Cecil Brown, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Florence Ladd, Maya Angelou, Stevie Wonder, and many others met. It was demolished in 2014 despite protests in both France and the United States to make room for luxury condos.

Absent a brick-and-mortar writer's museum for Baldwin in the U.S., this collection is based on the scholarship and archival findings of Professor Magdalena J. Zaborowska (Departments of Afroamerican and African Studies, American Culture, and Digital Studies Institute) that were gathered between 2000 and 2018 and is an open-access resource entitled "Chez Baldwin Writer's House Digital Collection" ("Chez Baldwin"). It recreates Baldwin's house for the public through digital imaging that documents the layout of the home, its contents (e.g., library, artwork, vinyl records, magazines, phone logs, news clippings, and ephemera like jewelry and clothing), and setting (e.g., architectural detail, gardens, furniture). The house is indispensable to explaining why the writer conceptualized race and sexuality as he did, offering a crucial link between the making of his revolutionary ideas in the last century and present-day scholars, students, and political activists inspired by his wisdom and seeking knowledge about how he lived and "who...he love[d]" -- in Joseph Beam's words. The resurgence of interest in Baldwin's legacy – from academe, through film, to popular culture and social justice movements like Black Lives Matter –confirms the timeliness of this project. The first digital collection of this kind focusing on black queer domesticity and an internationally recognized African American literary figure, it complements Baldwin's papers at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and at other U.S. institutions.

The collection preserves underrepresented national cultural heritage in its focus on Baldwin's unexamined material possessions, such as books by favorite authors, journals he subscribed to, foreign translations of his works, and sources he researched while writing specific texts. It is comprised of approximately 4,000 digital photographs that should be of interest to scholars in English, African American literature and studies, and gender and sexuality studies, among other disciplines, and to anyone interested in Baldwin. While several institutions (e.g., Schomburg, NMAAHC, Emory University, Yale University, Harvard University) offer access to Baldwin's manuscripts, none provide extensive documentation of his domestic life, household, and relationships with the local community. All assets included in the collection are grouped into broad subject categories (e.g., Library, House Interior, House Exterior, Garden, Vinyl Records, Artwork, Fashion, Writer's Study), that will offer detailed insights into Baldwin's domestic environment and social connections. The collection invites visitors to approach Baldwin's home as a source of and framework for his literary works, biography, and social and private life.

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