This introduction provides an overview of James Baldwin’s work in the 1980s and why it has been overlooked. Against the conventional narrative of Baldwin’s “decline,” a fresh look at his late work reveals a still-razor-sharp, provocative writer who, with the benefit of hindsight, holds up as one of the most prescient observers of the post-civil rights landscape. Indeed, while Baldwin is most often associated with earlier historical moments, he remained prolific in his final decade, publishing his most ambitious novel in 1979 (Just Above My Head), several noteworthy essays and articles (including landmark pieces such as “The Cross of Redemption,” “Notes on the House of Bondage,” “Freaks and the American Ideal of Manhood,” and “To Crush the Serpent”), a collection of poems in 1984 (Jimmy’s Blues), a major nonfiction book in 1985 (The Evidence of Things Not Seen), and arguably his best play (the as-yet unpublished The Welcome Table). In addition, he gave numerous illuminating interviews and speeches, narrated a documentary (I Heard It through the Grapevine), and even collaborated on a spoken-word-music album with jazz musician and composer David Linx (A Lover’s Question).
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