Robert Reid-Pharr is currently working on a book entitled James Baldwin: The Making of an American Icon. Though the volume is conservatively biographical in its chronology, it also poses a unique and important broader question: How did a poor, queer African American like Baldwin become one of the most celebrated spokespersons of his generation for African American culture and the Civil Rights movement? To discern an answer, Reid-Pharr draws on the recently opened Baldwin archives at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library and on materials at the Houghton and Beineke Libraries at Harvard and Yale Universities. In so doing, he demonstrates how Baldwin’s literary genius propelled him into the worldwide spotlight.
The event was moderated by Frank Kelleter, Chair of the Department of Culture, John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin.