Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 July 2019
To identify James Baldwin’s “literary progeny” is a more difficult task than it might first appear. A listing of luminaries alone will not suffice; as a writer who refused easy labels, was ever wary of stable identities, and constantly chafed at his responsibility to be somehow “representative,” Baldwin’s legacy demands instead a fuller investigation of the stakes at hand. However, questions about literature and genealogy tend to explode rather than narrow the terms of our analysis. The path is littered with obstacles of the most monstrous sort for the critic: slippery terminology, long detours through the paths of Oedipal hand-wringing and American philosophical traditions, shelves straining under the weight of more than two centuries’ worth of African American letters and critical theory. And that’s before we even get to the floating signifiers of race, sexuality, and class. Oh my!