Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-768ffcd9cc-5sfl8 Total loading time: 0.398 Render date: 2022-12-06T15:35:30.388Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Chapter 23 - Mid-Century Theater

from Part 3 - Literary Contexts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 July 2019

D. Quentin Miller
Affiliation:
Suffolk University, Massachusetts
Get access

Summary

In the final pages of David Leeming’s magisterial biography James Baldwin, the author recounts an intimate confession that Baldwin made to him in their final conversation, which took place on November 24, 1987, just seven days before Baldwin’s death: “That night Jimmy and I talked about theater. If he could have started all over again, he might have concentrated on being a playwright and maybe an actor; he liked the immediacy of the stage, working with live people and having the audience right there.” What might happen to our understanding of Baldwin’s life and legacy if we linger with this minor detail? I suggest that the implications of this short, often overlooked passage when situated in the context of the other biographical details of the last year of Baldwin’s life – namely the fact that he was at work on what was to be the loosely autobiographical play The Welcome Table – are significant. Baldwin’s deathbed longing to start life “all over again” with a focus on playwriting and performance might come to some as a stunning admission. But for those attuned to the minor frequencies of the author’s life, Baldwin’s confession simply gives voice to a desire (specifically the desire/impulse toward theater and theatricality) that seems to have been with him – even if never fully realized – all throughout his life. Baldwin’s journey as a playwright was a lifelong expedition that began in his earliest moments as a fledgling writer. As early as 1941 – a full decade before the publication of his novelistic debut Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953) – Baldwin had already penned a drama entitled These Two, a short play about two young black men, one of whom commits suicide and one of whom is killed by the police. His career as a published playwright also included his 1958 stage version of Giovanni’s Room, which ran at The Actors Studio in Greenwich Village under the direction of Turkish director Elia Kazan (where he met actor Engin Cezzar, who would later become the driving force behind Baldwin’s decade in Istanbul, Turkey); his 1964 Blues for Mister Charlie (which he famously dedicated to the memories of Medgar Evers and Emmett Till); and 1954’s The Amen Corner (which he had workshopped for well over a decade – including an early run at Howard University in 1955 – before eventually making its doomed arrival on the Broadway stage, where it closed after only eighty-four performances).

Type
Chapter
Information
James Baldwin in Context , pp. 244 - 253
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×