I had not read any James Baldwin prior to taking this class, and it was a gift to be able to take a deep dive into his work this semester. From exploring religious themes in Go Tell It On the Mountain,to discussing queer identity through Giovanni’s Room, to connecting Baldwin’s incredible essays with contemporary issues of racial justice, our class’s conversations have been a great way to discuss some of the major themes and questions raised in Baldwin’s work. I was surprised to discover how proximate and alive Baldwin’s work felt, and it was a privilege to read him especially in 2021. I think I would agree with his description of himself as a prophet— his work seems ahead of his time in many ways, and it’s overwhelmingly clear that there is still so much we can learn from his work.
As I’ve been editing my final paper, looking into themes of exile and flight in Baldwin’s writing, I have been thinking about our final class discussion sitting outside last week. I remember that Maria brought up the idea of strangerhood that we have discussed throughout the course, and how Baldwin often described himself as a stranger. Maria brought up an interesting question about how Baldwin’s identity as a stranger is imposed in some ways and chosen in others. I think that this is a really valuable lesson that I want to carry with me moving forward from this class. Seeing how Baldwin is deeply relevant to America today, I think that his convictions about love and community are especially meaningful. Over and over, our class has discussed the emphasis that Baldwin placed on love. With the expressions of hate that we have seen all too much in America, even in the few months of this class, Baldwin’s imperative of love and his call to connect with one another is a message that matters for America today— one that I hope will make me a better American, having been influenced by Baldwin.