Author in Focus

James Baldwin

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.

—James Baldwin

The National Book Foundation’s Author in Focus program seeks to highlight and reframe the work of selected, historical authors from the National Book Awards family whose work is deserving of a renewed celebration and revival. Author in Focus consists of a year of nationwide educational and public programming celebrating these important writers and contextualizing their work for today’s reader.

The National Book Awards has a stellar record of identifying and rewarding quality writing since its inception in 1950, when William Carlos Williams received the first Award for Poetry. William Faulkner was honored the following year for Fiction, and so on through time. Many previous Winners of the National Book Award are now firmly established in the canon of American literature, including Ralph Ellison, Flannery O’Connor, Philip Roth, Elizabeth Bishop, and Adrienne Rich. Author in Focus is designed to shine the spotlight on some of the most singular National Book Awards–honored writers in our history.

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The writings of literary icon and social critic James Baldwin are as relevant today as the moment they were written, particularly given the state of racial relations in the U.S., and are crucial to our current understanding of American history—which, as Baldwin said, is “longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” Baldwin, a four-time National Book Award Finalist, was a natural choice as the inaugural Author in Focus spotlight writer.

For a year, we celebrated James Baldwin and his legacy with public events and programs specifically geared at three groups who help connect readers with books: high-school teachers, librarians, and booksellers. NBF worked with our partners at Writers in the Schools (WITS) and the NY Writers Coalition to engage young people in schools and youth justice programs, respectively, and visited three major conferences—the National Council of Teachers of English’s Conference on English Leadership Convention (CEL), the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute (ABA), and the American Library Association’s Annual Conference (ALA).

Speakers and teaching artists included Hannah Oliver Depp, Brandon J. Dirden, Casey Gerald, Kaitlyn Greenidge, Nathan Hinton, Chris Jackson, Mitchell S. Jackson, Brendan Kiely, Robin Coste Lewis, Shane McCrae, Daniel José Older, Tochi Onyebuchi, Carra Patterson, Daniel Peña, Anthony Rapp, Jason Reynolds, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Lilliam Rivera, Alex Sanchez, Charlayne Woodard, and Ibi Zoboi

“To be able to hear how Baldwin’s works are complex and resonate today is fulfilling. To hears others say how his work moves people to action was confirmation to my thoughts. To be able to introduce my children to Baldwin’s work is fabulous. To see the film with my children was heaven to me. Thanks for the gift.”

Dr. Sheila Pope, audience member at Houston Public Library


 

Author in Focus: James Baldwin Events

National Council of Teachers of English’s Conference on English Leadership Convention (CEL) & the Houston Public Library
Houston, Texas
November 18–19, 2018
NBF presented a discussion at the CEL and Houston Public Library featuring authors Mitchell S. Jackson (The Residue Years, Survival Math) and Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts (Harlem is Nowhere), moderated by Daniel Peña, Assistant Professor of English for University of Houston. Both conversations featured book giveaways of assorted Baldwin titles and were followed by question-and-answer sessions with the audience. The library event included a screening of I Am Not Your Negro.

American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute & the Public Library Albuquerque and Bernalillo County
Albuquerque, New Mexico
January 22–25, 2019
NBF presented a discussion at the American Booksellers Association’s annual conference and the Albuquerque Public Library featuring National Book Award Winner Robin Coste Lewis and Casey Gerald (There Will Be No Miracles Here), moderated by independent bookseller and Loyalty Bookstore owner and founder Hannah Oliver Depp. Each event hosted an accompanying screening, the latter at the historic KiMo Theatre in downtown Albuquerque. Both conversation events included a book giveaway of assorted Baldwin titles.

Selected Shorts: A Celebration of James Baldwin
Hosted by Symphony Space and National Book Foundation
New York, New York
June 12, 2019
This special evening featured a wide range of material from Baldwin’s works—including excerpts from Giovanni’s Room and “Notes for a Hypothetical Freedom”—delivered by renowned actors Brandon J. Dirden (The Americans), Nathan Hinton (Madam Secretary), Chris Jackson (Bull), Carra Patterson (Straight Outta Compton), Anthony Rapp (Star Trek: Discovery), and Charlayne Woodard (Pose). The evening was hosted by NBF Executive Director Lisa Lucas. The event was recorded, and a podcast will be available to the public in September 2019.

American Library Association’s Annual Conference (ALA) & the DC Public Library
Washington, DC
June 23–24, 2019
NBF presented a discussion at the American Libraries Association’s annual conference and the Anacostia Neighborhood Library in partnership with the DC Public Library featuring National Book Award Finalist Jason Reynolds and National Book Award Finalist Ibi Zoboi, moderated by independent bookseller and Loyalty Bookstore owner and founder Hannah Oliver Depp. Both conversations featured book giveaways of assorted Baldwin titles and were followed by question-and-answer sessions with the audience. The library event included a screening of I Am Not Your Negro.

School Partners

NBF worked with school partners to engage new and potentially reluctant high-school-aged readers with the current relevance and literary merit of Baldwin’s work, and support innovative ways of introducing Baldwin’s writing to young people who may not have come into contact with it in the school curriculum. Programming including school visits from contemporary authors whose work thematically connects and/or engages with Baldwin.

Youth Justice Program Partners
(in partnership with the NY Writers Coalition)

In partnership with the NY Writers Coalition, NBF produced six youth justice programs for detained, incarcerated, and formerly incarcerated youth. Author visits highlighted a selected Baldwin work in conversation with their own work and included book donations and book signings.

Author in Focus: James Baldwin is made possible by Velvet Film and the Ford Foundation.

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