In a Speculative Light: James Baldwin & Beauford Delaney
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In a Speculative Light: James Baldwin & Beauford Delaney
Saturday, February 20 – Sunday, February 21, 2020
Presented by the UT Humanities Center
Hosted by the University of Tennessee Humanities Center, and funded in part with a Collaborative Research Grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities, this symposium is an academic event to be held on the UT Knoxville campus and is free to UT faculty, students, and staff. The plenary sessions will be live-streamed at this website to allow for members of the public to attend virtually. The lecture by Fred Moten on Thursday afternoon is free and open to the public.
The symposium will create new knowledge about Black arts history and American late modernism for scholars working in literary studies, musicology, and the visual arts by looking closely, for the first time, at work by two men—writer James Baldwin and painter Beauford Delaney—who were also among the greatest of 20th-century Black American artists. Friends for more than thirty-eight years, they had much in common, for neither man fit easy artistic or identity categories. Both were prolific craftsmen who moved through many artistic genres and modes; both were influenced by jazz and blues, were obsessed with the connotations and properties of color and light, and were gay expatriates from the US alienated by homophobia and racism that permeated society and arts cultures. But while the story of their friendship is well known, and their respective influence among peers was extensive, there has been to date no study clarifying how their relationship shaped their works or influenced 20th-century arts. This project is intended to remedy this significant gap in the critical discourse.
The subject of this project is how Baldwin and Delaney together and separately speculate on the present and bet on the future as artists who embrace their diasporic Black identities. It asks how they create spaces in their lives and in their art works that allow thinking anew about Blackness and the social realities in which they move, and how they wager and gamble on a different future through the very forms of their respective arts.
The symposium will call for scholarly work concerning six categories of research questions: arts history and Black aesthetics, music and sonic arts, ethics and social values, style and form, gender and sexuality, and biography and legacies. The following are the research questions that speakers will be asked to explore:
• Arts History and Black Aesthetics: How should we understand the delight in, and despair with, the exploration of light and color in Baldwin’s and Delaney’s works and lives? What frame is needed to understand their fascination with and withdrawal from pellucidity? Richard J. Powell has written that Delaney’s colors have affective charge, indicative of emotional interiority: in what ways might form and affect merge or serve new aesthetic ends in these artists’ works? In what ways do expressionism and abstraction contend? How might the works of Baldwin or Delaney be seen to presage new definitions of Black aesthetics, such as new definitions of synesthesia or opacity or contemporary re-visionings of Black abstraction? Whom did they influence, and how?
• Music and Sonic Arts: How might we reconfigure our understandings of the arts of these two mid-century artists—or the aesthetics of their artistic surround—in relation to the sonic arts, specifically jazz and blues but also other kinds of sonic form? In what ways does “transmedial consonance” resonate through their respective works or shared aesthetics? What roles do the sonic arts play in Black modernism and postwar arts and how might these resituate Delaney and/or Baldwin historically, artistically, bodily, politically—and vice versa?
• Ethics and Social Values: How might the friendship between these men be reassessed through the lens of Black care? In what ways might care ethics help us to situate their expatriation and chosen diasporas? In what ways do mentorship and love become redefined as an aesthetic relation and a relation of care? What is a formal consequence of this friendship in their works and on their philosophies of art and life? How does viewing them through the lens of care ethics help us to rethink Black masculinity or Black creativity in relation to history?
• Style and Genre: What are the contexts and framing discourses that might allow us to reevaluate Baldwin’s and/or Delaney’s promiscuous play with genre, style, and form? How might their expatriate wanderings and their generic wanderings demand a new descriptive vocabulary? What are the stakes of their wager on a multiplicity of expression or a polyphony of discourse, or what Fred Moten has called a “categorial blur”?
• Gender and Sexuality: What can queer theory now bring to our understanding of these artists and their productions, and vice versa? On what are they speculating in their cross-generational and improvisational familial / lovers’ relation? What role does gender, sexuality, love, or the reproductive future play in the lives of these men and in their arts? In their lives and aesthetics, what is the interplay and resonance of exile as the basis for creative erotics?
• Biography and Legacies: How might Baldwin and Delaney see the theory that now wishes to include them? Are our current theories congenial to them, or is a more radical revisioning (or more conservative separation of historical periods) required to see the true relation between their speculations and our own time and desires? What arts/artists today are influenced directly by their work and/or philosophies of art? What new arts, such as digital arts, have adopted their aesthetic practices or philosophies?
Scholars from multiple arts and humanities fields are being invited to address these questions. The threads holding this tapestry of disciplines together will be Delaney and Baldwin—their times, arts, friendship, politics, and influence. With Delaney and Baldwin as a fulcrum, papers should generate new insights about the mid-century arts and how they contributed to new definitions of Black identity, creative expression, and confraternity and thus have the potential together to construct new genealogies for contemporary Black arts.
Thursday, February 20
(UT Student Union, Floors 2 And 3) Pop-up Portrait Studio (live art portrait sessions), Room 262B Public Displays and Book Exhibit, Room 262B
8:30-10:00 // Session 1: Dialogues Student Union, Room 362B-C
Walton M. Muyumba, Indiana University Bloomington “Through the Unusual Door: Seeing Differently After Baldwin”
Robert O’Meally, Columbia University “Uses of Yellows and the Blues: Delaney and Baldwin”
Rachel Cohen, University of Chicago “Shared Subjects: Conversations Between the Self-portraits of Delaney and the Autobiographical Essays of Baldwin”
10:45-12:00 // Session 2: Biographies and Legacies Student Union, Room 362B-C
Magdalena Zaborowska, University of Michigan “A Question of Identity: Delaney’s and Baldwin’s Black Queer Domesticity and the U.S. National House”
David Leeming, Professor Emeritus, University of Connecticut at Storrs “Jimmy and Beauford: The Bond at the Unusual Door”
1:30-2:45 // Session 3: Relationship and Abstraction Student Union, Room 262A
Rich Blint, The New School “‘My Principal Witness’: Baldwin, Delaney, and the Abstractions of Race”
Shawn Christian, Wheaton College “Leading the ‘Inner and Outer Eye’: Delaney, Baldwin, and the Legacy of African American Artistic Inspiration”
Ed Pavlić, University of Georgia “‘you pay for your life with our life’: Jimmy Baldwin’s Politicized Privacy”
1:30-2:45 // Session 4: Apart and Together Student Union, Room 262C
Monika Gehlawat, University of Southern Mississippi “Choosing Both: Abstraction and Singularity in Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin”
Tyler T. Schmidt, Lehman College, CUNY “Queer Radiance: Beauford Delaney at the Bathhouse”
Miller Wilbourn, University of Texas at Austin “‘The Essence of Our Work’: Love and Delaney’s Spiritual Paternity in Baldwin’s Writing”
3:30-5:00 // Keynote Lecture Student Union Auditorium, Room 180
Fred Moten, NYU “Blue(s) as Cymbal: Beauford Delaney (Elvin Jones) James Baldwin”
Friday, February 21
(University Of Tennessee Student Union, Floors 2 And 3) Pop-up Portrait Studio, Student Union Room 262B Public Displays and Book Exhibit, Student Union Room 262B
8:30-10:00 // Session 5: Art and Contexts Student Union, Room 362B-C
Levi Prombaum, Curatorial Assistant, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum “Delaney, Van Gogh, and The Fire Next Time”
Nicholas Boggs, NYU “For Beauford: ‘Looking Again’ at James Baldwin and Yoran Cazac’s Little Man, Little Man”
Mary Campbell, University of Tennessee “Encounters in the Archive”
10:30-11:45 Session 6: The Lightness of Being Student Union, Room 362B-C
Robert Reid-Pharr, Harvard University “Bright Baldwin/Dark Delaney: Twentieth-Century African American Intellectuals and the Erotics of Seeing and Being Seen”
Michele Elam, Stanford University “Speculative Light in the Age of AI”
2:00-3:15 Session 7: History and Aesthetics Student Union, Room 362B-C
Michelle Commander, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYC “Archival Speculation: Southern Specters, Haunting, and Flight”
Stephen M. Best, University of California at Berkeley “Baldwin’s Beauty Demand”
3:30-5:00 Session 8: Connections Student Union, Room 262A
Abbe Schriber, Columbia University “Color Pleasure: Intimacy in Downtown Painting After Delaney & Baldwin”
Indie A. Choudhury, Stanford University “you thought I was too dark until I stretched into a galaxy”
D. Quentin Miller, Suffolk University “Shadow and Light: Chiaroscuro in Delaney and Baldwin’s ‘Sonny’s Blues’”
3:30-5:00 Session 9: Irrevocable Conditions Student Union, Room 262C
Keith Clark, George Mason University “In Moonlight Black Boys (Can’t) Look Gay? The Curious Cases of If Beale Street Could Talk, 1974-2018”
Marc K. Dudley, North Carolina State University “Painting (with Words) Those Blues Away”: If Beale Street Could Talk, The Blues, and a Legacy of Resistance”
Sarah Winstein-Hibbs, University of Virginia “Building A Black Queer Archive of Charisma: James Baldwin’s Civil Rights Historiography”
The fiction writer, essayist, and activist James Baldwin (New York 1924-1987 Saint‒Paul‒de‒Vence, France), was, for part of the 20th-century, the better known of these two friends. Because Baldwin’s career was long, his writing prolific (by some reckonings, more that 6800 pages), and his status as a cultural figure iconic, the literature about him and his work is vast and includes his own nonfiction essays about his life. Scholarship on James Baldwin’s life and writing is flourishing today, with international conferences, entire journals, and books solely devoted to his life and work.
Baldwin’s reputation as a writer was augmented by his prominence as a speaker; an “out” gay man and a voice of Black radical resistance, he also became a prominent national activist during the US Civil Rights era. Many see his writing as fundamentally relevant today to Black Lives Matter, LGBTQIA, and other social justice struggles. For example, Darryl Pinckney has noted that a new book edited by the novelist and memoirist Jesmyn Ward and rehearsing the title of one of Baldwin’s texts, The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, “originated in her search for community and consolation after the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012,” and quotes her as noting, “I couldn’t fully satisfy my need for kinship in this struggle. . . . In desperation, I sought James Baldwin. [. . .] Baldwin was so brutally honest.” In 2015, digital sound artists Mendi and Keith Obadike created Blues Speaker [For James Baldwin], a 12-hour work of sound art based on Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues” (1948), his most anthologized work. The digital work is modelled on “Praise Songs” after the classical African mode and digitally renders sound in an architectural surrounding—the actual walls of the New School’s University Center in New York City. These and other projects attest to an urgent return to Baldwin’s work today.
But the archive of Baldwin’s letters had been sealed by his estate for many years and was purchased and made available to scholars only recently by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in NYC. We are, as a result, right now in the midst of a renaissance concerning Baldwin’s writing. As Jennifer Schuessler notes, “James Baldwin died in 1987, but his moment is now. His books are flying off the shelves. He has inspired homages like Raoul Peck’s documentary I Am Not Your Negro and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s memoir Between the World and Me. Baldwin’s prophetic essays on race read like today’s news.”
There is to date no full-length study about Baldwin and Delaney as artists and friends, but one can mine the primary and secondary sources for references. Baldwin’s short story collection Going to Meet the Man (1965) is dedicated to Delaney, and Delaney is included in the dedication to Baldwin’s No Name in the Street (1972). Baldwin found in Delaney a father figure, an artistic genius, and model of perseverance as a Southern gay man of color; he called Delaney his “principle witness.” Baldwin wrote eloquently of the older painter in his 1985 essay “The Price of the Ticket”: “Beauford was the first walking, living proof, for me, that a black man could be an artist. In a warmer time, a less blasphemous place, he would have been recognized as my Master and I as his Pupil. He became, for me, an example of courage and integrity, humility and passion. An absolute integrity: I saw him shaken many times and I lived to see him broken but I never saw him bow.” Notably, in his remembrances, Baldwin aligned Delaney with both light and music: “I learned about light from Beauford Delaney, the light contained in every thing, in every surface, in every face. […] and this light held the power to illuminate, even to redeem and reconcile and heal. For Beauford’s work leads the inner and the outer eye, directly and inexorably, to a new confrontation with reality. […] he is a great painter, among the very greatest.”
Baldwin writes of the first time he walked into Delaney’s studio: “I had grown up with music, but, now, on Beauford’s small black record player, I began to hear what I had never dared or been able to hear. [… I]n his studio and because of his presence, I really began to hear Ella Fitzgerald, Ma Rainey, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Paul Robeson, Lena Horne, Fats Waller. [. . .] And these people were not meant to be looked on by me as celebrities, but as a part of Beauford’s life and as part of my inheritance.” In a 1976 interview with Esquire, Baldwin noted that “the most important person in my life [as a writer] was and is a very great but not very well-known Black painter named Botha [sic] Delaney.”
One sees glimpses of Delaney in photographs throughout the biographical film about Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket, which premiered at Sundance in 1970. And Joan Dempsey has written convincingly that the main mentor figure in Baldwin’s most famous and anthologized short story, “Sonny’s Blues,” first published in The Partisan Review in 1957 and republished in 1965 in his only short story collection, Going to Meet the Man, is Beauford Delaney. Because Baldwin’s own essays point us in this direction, the connection between Delaney and Baldwin through jazz is often mentioned in secondary studies as a passing observation—with the exception of David Leeming’s authoritative biography of Baldwin, which deals with the friendship extensively. Other Baldwin biographies usually build off Leeming’s work. Such discussions have deepened to some degree as Delaney comes back on to the arts scene and theories such as queer-of-color and critical race studies open up new platforms for considering the men’s identities and relationships. But for the most part, the Baldwin/Delaney relationship is mentioned only in passing or as a biographically important detail; no study exists that fleshes out and historicizes the important artistic re-visioning that this relationship may have had for both artists or how their relationship—a new kind of father/son relation between Black men who together produced some of the most important work of the mid-twentieth century—may revise how we understand Black masculinity or the development of postwar Black aesthetics.
The painter Beauford Delaney (Knoxville 1901-1979 Paris) was lost to history for a time. Yet in the mid-twentieth century, Delaney was considered an important artist of his generation. Born and initially taught to draw in Knoxville, Tennessee, he was a central figure in Boston, New York, and Parisian high-art circles, exhibiting his paintings in Europe and in the United States. Delaney was a devotee of jazz and blues: he painted portraits and impressions of jazz artists such as Ella Fitzgerald (Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, 1968) and Charlie Parker (Charlie Parker, 1969 and Charlie Parker Yardbird, 1958), and when lonely in Paris he copied blues lyrics into his sketchbooks. He was a beloved figure among writers, painters, and filmmakers, promoted by numerous patrons of the arts such as American cultural ambassador and art dealer Dorothea Speyer (1919–2014), and befriended by notable figures such as Georgia O’Keeffe (who drew charcoal and pastel portraits of Delaney in 1943), Henry Miller (who wrote a tribute to him), Countee Cullen, Louis Armstrong, Carl Van Vechten, and, later, Henry Louis Gates. He painted writer Jean Genet, singer Marian Anderson, and the Surrealist poet Stanislas Rodanski. Moving among such luminaries, Delaney was often seen as a kind of “Buddha” or teacher, though he fought extreme poverty and mental illness throughout his life.
Delaney met Baldwin in New York in 1940 when the writer was just fifteen years old and did a now-famous painting of him about a year later titled Dark Rapture (1941)—the first of many paintings of Baldwin that Delaney would complete during his lifetime. The two would remain close as mentor/protégé, adopted father/son, and friends. Delaney introduced Baldwin to classical music, jazz and blues, took him to galleries and introduced him to friends, and made the funeral arrangements after Baldwin’s father’s death. Delaney, from an older generation that felt viscerally the policies of Jim Crow, found in Baldwin a powerful intellectual with a fearless social conscience and commitment to Civil Rights causes. He also found a spiritual partner and muse who provided emotional comfort, stability, and creative validation. Encouraged by Baldwin, Delaney left the US in 1953 and settled in Paris, where he lived until his death in 1979. In Delaney’s last years in a sanitarium in France, Baldwin was appointed one of his primary trustees and helped see to his needs. A famous picture by Max Petrus taken in 1976 shows them standing together in a garden, holding hands, Baldwin in 1970s dress, Delaney an old man in a white bathrobe, looking peacefully into the camera. Tragically, however, after Delaney died in 1979 in Saint Anne’s Hospital for the Insane and was buried in a something like a pauper’s grave outside of Paris, his work was nearly forgotten. Today, his reputation is being restored through the work of artists, critics, curators, and amateur enthusiasts worldwide. The Les Amis de Beauford Delaney project, headed by Monique Wells in Paris, has been central to restoring his memory in that city. Grave and tourist markers now signal his historical presence in Paris and Knoxville, TN. His work is sold in galleries for increasingly high prices, and his paintings hang prominently among modernist and postwar works in New York’s Museum of Modern Art [where his yellow Composition 16 (1954-56) was hung next to a work by Mark Rothko], the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery (notably a portrait of Baldwin). The American artist Glenn Ligon curated a 2015 exhibition at the Tate Liverpool titled “Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions” that featured two works by Delaney (one a portrait of Baldwin) and put Delaney in the company of the Abstract Expressionists, next to a picture by Franz Kline.
Because his estate has been largely closed to scholars to the present day, and because his reputation waned after his death, critical writing about Delaney is almost nonexistent, even with the flourishing of Baldwin studies across disciplines. The Studio Museum of Harlem broke ground with the first major posthumous exhibition of Delaney on US soil with Beauford Delaney: A Retrospective (1979) and included the full text of Baldwin’s previously published essay “Introduction to Exhibition of Beauford Delaney Opening December 4, 1964 at the Gallery Lambert.” There have been other exhibitions of Delaney’s work since 2000 that include Baldwin in minor ways and whose catalogues have provided most of the critical work done recently on Delaney to date: these include Beauford Delaney: Liquid Light: Paris Abstractions 1954-1970, organized by Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in 1999; An Artistic Friendship: Beauford Delaney and Lawrence Calcagno at the Palmer Museum of Art at the Pennsylvania State University in 2001; Beauford Delaney: The Color Yellow, organized by the High Museum of Art in 2002 and curated by Richard J. Powell, who contributed a groundbreaking essay about Delaney’s use of color; Beauford Delaney: New York to Paris (2005), organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Art, whose robust catalog features several scholarly essays mentioning James Baldwin; Beauford Delaney: Renaissance of Form and Vibration of Color (2016) at Montparnasse’s Reid Hall and sponsored by Wells International Foundation and Les Amis de Beauford Delaney, along with Columbia Global Centers/Reid Hall Exposition; and Gathering Light: Works by Beauford Delaney (2017) at the Knoxville Museum of Art in Tennessee. Aside from the catalogue essays from these and other exhibitions, the only monograph devoted to Delaney is the 1998 biography by David Leeming, Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney (1998). Leeming outlines the broad arc of Delaney’s life and artistic development while emphasizing the contrast between the artist’s vibrant social life and troubled inner life that led to his institutionalization in the late 1970s. It is encouraging to see, however, that references to Delaney are now appearing in cutting-edge work on Black aesthetics, such as Fred Moten’s theoretical work, and in reconstructions of LGBTQIA arts.
While previous Delaney exhibitions and publications have almost exclusively emphasized Delaney’s stylistic evolution from the 1940s to the 1960s, from representation to pure abstraction, as a function of his move from New York to Paris and/or his worsening mental health, the proposed symposium will put Delany into conversation with new and radical theories about the techniques and politics of Black arts, affording him some of the first serious treatment by academic criticism to date. Because of Delaney’s stature among abstract expressionists, the project will contribute to a growing interest in the past ten years concerning “Black Abstraction” in the arts, as evidence by shows at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery (2014), the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston (2014), Pace Gallery (2016), and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. (2018). It is time to bring Delaney also into the sphere of queer theory, new Black aesthetics, and new theories of Black care that are transforming the critical landscape in academe and in which Baldwin is now frequently found.
A scholarly symposium free to UT faculty, students, and staff, brought to you by the Humanities Center at the University of Tennessee. All images of Beauford Delaney and his art are © The Estate of Beauford Delaney by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire, Court Appointed Administrator.
Funding and Partners
This event made possible through funding from An NEH-funded Symposium
In Association with
The Delaney Project • The Knoxville Museum of Art • Student Union • The Frieson Black Cultural Center • Les Amis de Beauford Delaney • The Beck Cultural Exchange Center • East Tennessee Historical Society • Marble City Opera
Speakers & Panelists
Stephen M. Best is Professor at the University of California, Berkeley and is an affiliated faculty member in the Department of Film and Media and a member of the Critical Theory designated emphasis. He is the author of The Fugitive’s Properties: Law and the Poetics of Possession (U of Chicago Press, 2004) and None Like Us: Blackness, Belonging, Aesthetic Life (Duke UP, 2018). He has co-edited two special issues of Representations: Special Issue, #108: “The Way We Read Now” (Fall 2009) and Special Issue #92: “Redress” (Fall 2005), which won “Best Special Issue for 2006” from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals.
Nicholas Boggs teaches in the Department of English at New York University. He is co-editor (with Jennifer DeVere Brody) of Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood (Duke, 2018), James Baldwin’s collaboration with French painter Yoran Cazac. His writing has appeared in The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin, Callaloo, and James Baldwin Now, and he is currently at work on a literary biography of Baldwin, forthcoming from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in the States, Bloomsbury UK, and Editions Seuil in France.
Rich Blint is Assistant Professor of Literature and Director of the Undergraduate Minor in Race and Ethnicity, The New School. He is co-editor of a special issue of African American Review on James Baldwin (2014) and wrote the introduction and notes for an e-book Baldwin for Our Times: Writings from James Baldwin for a Time of Sorrow and Struggle (2016). His forthcoming monograph is titled A Radical Interiority: James Baldwin and the Personified Self in Modern American Culture, and he is the editor of Approaches to Teaching the Works of James Baldwin, currently under development for the Modern Language Association.
Mary Campbell is Associate Professor of Art History, University of Tennessee. She is the author of Charles Ellis Johnson and the Erotic Mormon Image (U of Chicago Press, 2016) and is working on a book on the art of Beauford Delaney. A lawyer as well as an art historian, Campbell continues to publish in legal journals. Indie A. Choudhury is a PhD candidate in Art History at Stanford University and a Dissertation Fellow at the Stanford Research Institute of the Center for Comparative Race and Ethnicity. Her forthcoming dissertation project is a monograph on Frank Bowling, and her work had been published in NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art, Panorama,and the Royal Academy Chronicle.
Shawn Anthony Christian is Associate Professor of English and African American studies at Wheaton College (MA). He is author of The Harlem Renaissance and the Idea of a New Negro Reader. His writings on James Baldwin, the Harlem Renaissance, and African American literary and print cultures appear in MAWA Review, Ethnic Studies Review, Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, and the volumes Reading African American Experiences in the Obama Era and The Harlem Renaissance Revisited.
Keith Clark is Professor of English and African and African American Studies at George Mason University. He is the author of The Radical Fiction of Ann Petry (Louisiana State UP, 2013) and Black Manhood in James Baldwin, Ernest J. Gaines and August Wilson (2002). He is editor of Contemporary Black Men’s Fiction and Drama (2001). His critical and pedagogical essays and book reviews have appeared in Callaloo, African American Review, The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, Resources for American Literary Study, American Writers V, and Modern Drama.
Rachel Cohen is Professor of Practice in the Arts in Creative Writing, University of Chicago. She is the author of Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels (forthcoming FSG, May 2020), Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade, and A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of Writers and Artists, winner of PEN / Jerard Fund Award. Her essays on artists and writers – their friendships, fallings out, and the work they make – have appeared in publications including the New Yorker, the Guardian, the London Review of Books, Art in America, Apollo Magazine, McSweeney’s and Best American Essays. Cohen is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Michelle Commander is Associate Director and Curator of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Commander is the author of numerous articles on Black literature and culture and the book Afro-Atlantic Flight: Speculative Returns and the Black Fantastic (Duke UP, 2017).
Marc Dudley is Associate Professor of English at the North Carolina State University. He is the author of Hemingway, Race, and Art (2012) and Understanding James Baldwin (2019), and is the co-editor of the forthcoming collection Hemingway and Film.
Michele Elam is William Robertson Coe Professor in Humanities, Department of English, Bass University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, and Associate Director of the Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University. Her books include Race, Work, and Desire in American Literature, 1860-1930 (Cambridge UP, 2003), The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics, and Aesthetics in the New Millennium (Stanford UP, 2011), and The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin (Ed., 2015). “Making Race in the Age of AI” is her most recent book project.
Monika Gehlawat is Associate Professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi. She is the author of the forthcoming In Defense of Dialogue: Reading Habermas and Postwar American Literature (2020) as well as numerous essays in such journals as The James Baldwin Review, Word&Image, Contemporary Literature, and Soundings.
David Leeming is Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. Leeming served as James Baldwin’s assistant for many years and is the author of an authorized biography of Baldwin, James Baldwin: A Biography (Arcade, 1994) and the only biography of Beauford Delaney to date, Amazing Grace: The Life of Beauford Delaney (Oxford UP, 1998). He is coauthor of Gods, Heroes, and Kings: The Battle for Mythic Britain and the author of numerous books on mythology, including The Oxford Companion to World Mythology.
D. Quentin Miller is Professor of English at Suffolk University in Boston and is the author/editor of three books on James Baldwin, most recently James Baldwin in Context (Cambridge UP, 2019). He has also published more than two dozen articles or reference volume entries on Baldwin and organized two conferences on Baldwin (Boston, 2009 and Montpellier, France, 2013). He is co-editor of the recently published literature anthologies The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature (12th edition) and Literature to Go (4th edition) [Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2020].
Walton M. Muyumba is Associate Professor of American and African Diasporic Literature at Indiana University Bloomington. He is the author of The Shadow and the Act: Black Intellectual Practice, Jazz Improvisation, and Philosophical Pragmatism (University of Chicago Press). His personal and critical essays have appeared in Oxford American, The Chicago Tribune, The Crisis, The Dallas Morning News, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Times, New Republic, and The Atlantic, among other outlets. He has also published scholarship in The Cambridge History of American Poetry, College Literature, The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, and Trained Capacities: John Dewey, Rhetoric, and Democratic Practice.
Robert O’Meally is Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English, Columbia University. O’Meally is the founder and director of Columbia’s Center for Jazz Studies and is the author of The Romare Bearden Reader; Antagonistic Cooperation: Collage, Jazz, and American Fiction; The Craft of Ralph Ellison; Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday; The Jazz Singers; and Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey. His edited volumes include The Jazz Cadence of American Culture; Living with Music: Ralph Ellison’s Essays on Jazz; The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (co-editor); and the Barnes and Noble editions of Mark Twain, Herman Melville, and Frederick Douglass. For his production of a Smithsonian record set called The Jazz Singers, he was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Ed Pavlić is Distinguished Research Professor of English, African American Studies and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. His newest book is the novel Another Kind of Madness. He has published nine other books, the most recent and relevant being Who Can Afford to Improvise? James Baldwin and Black Music, the Lyric and the Listener (2016).
Levi Prombaum is Curatorial Assistant at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. He has contributed art criticism to journals and collections, including the forthcoming Beauford Delaney: Through the Unusual Door, ed. by Stephen Wicks. He serves on the editorial collective of Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory.
Robert Reid-Pharr is Professor of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. A specialist in African American culture and a prominent scholar in the field of race and sexuality studies, he has published four books: Archives of Flesh: African America, Spain, and Post-Humanist Critique (NYU Press, 2016); Conjugal Union: The Body, the House, and the Black American (Oxford University Press, 1999); Black, Gay, Man: Essays (NYU Press, 2001); and Once You Go Black: Choice, Desire, and the Black American Intellectual (NYU Press, 2007). His essays have appeared in, among other places, American Literature, American Literary History, Callaloo, Afterimage, Small Axe, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Women and Performance, Social Text, Transition, Studies in the Novel, The African American Review, Feminist Formations, Art in America, and Radical America. He is the recipient of a 2016 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship for his forthcoming work, Archives of Flesh: African America, Spain, and Post-Humanist Critique.
Tyler Schmidt is Associate Professor of English at Lehman College, CUNY. He is the author of Desegregating Desire: Race and Sexuality in Cold War American Literature (UP of Mississippi, 2013).
Abbe Schriber is a doctoral candidate in Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, where she is finishing a dissertation on the work of David Hammons. She has published articles in Arts, Women & Performance, and the collection David Hammons as well as catalogue essays and art criticism in Among Others: Blackness at MoMA, Black Refractions: Selections from the Studio Museum in Harlem, Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey, and The Shadows Took Shape: Afrofuturism and Contemporary Art and in such journals as Art in America, Artforum, and The Brooklyn Rail.
Miller Wilbourn is a first-year PhD student in English at the University of Texas at Austin studying 20th- century American and African American literature with a focus on the work of James Baldwin and post-secular expressions of faith.
Sarah Winstein-Hibbs is a PhD candidate at the University of Virginia completing her dissertation “American Charisma: Race and Affect, Text and Performance, 1960-2018” and is author of “A Critical Regionalist Reading of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: Rethinking Magical Realism through Afro-Caribbean Oral Narrative,” MELUS (April 2019).
Magdalena J. Zaborowska is Professor in the Departments of American Culture and Afroamerican and African Studies at University of Michigan. Her books include Me and My House: James Baldwin’s Last Decade in France (2018), James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile (2009; MLA prize winner) and How We Found America: Reading Gender through East European Immigrant Narratives (1995), as well as the edited and co-edited collections Other Americans, Other Americas: The Politics and Poetics of Multiculturalism (1998); The Puritan Origins of American Sex: Religion, Sexuality, and National Identity in American Literature (2001); and Over the Wall/After the Fall: Post-Communist Cultures in the East-West Gaze (2004).