At fourteen, James Baldwin “underwent … a prolonged religious crisis” and discovered “God, His saints and angels, and His blazing Hell.” At the same age, Hilton Als was given a copy of Nobody Knows My Name and discovered James Baldwin. He then entered into a tempestuous love affair with Baldwin’s work, one that shifted, over the years, from ardent infatuation and reverence to disaffection, settling somewhere in between: “no matter how much I tried to resist my identification with Baldwin,” he writes in his 1998 New Yorker essay “The Enemy Within,” “we were uneasy members of the same tribe.”
Last month, Als discussed Baldwin’s legacy at the Windham-Campbell Prize festival, where he was honored for his work in nonfiction. His interlocutor was Jacqueline Goldsby, a professor of English and African American Studies at Yale. What follows is a sliver of that conversation, published with permission by the Windham-Campbell Literature Prizes.
—Caitlin Youngquist Read More