VSU to Convene Scholars from Around the World for The James Arthur Baldwin International Symposium

Register today for VSU’s virtual celebration of one of the great writers of the 20th Century.

The Office of Academic Affairs, College of Humanities & Social Sciences, and the Honors Program at Virginia State University – a storied HBCU – will host the Inaugural James Arthur Baldwin International Symposium (JABIS), November 5 – 6, 2021, 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. “The Essential James Baldwin: The 21st Century and Beyond, At Home & Abroad” is the theme of the web-based research and artistic forum that will showcase scholars and artists from North America, Europe, Africa, and the British North Atlantic archipelago of Bermuda. Several surviving artists of the Black Arts Movement (BAM) will be highlighted discussants. Registration is required. 

The program will be anchored by a cadre of iconic intellectuals and creatives who are a Who’s Who of the African American literati, beginning with a special appearance by Nikki Giovanni, legendary BAM poet, author, and Virginia Tech University Distinguished Professor. Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, Professor & Chair, of Temple University’s Department of Africology and African American Studies, & Father of Afrocentricity, will deliver the Keynote Address, “James Baldwin, For Love of Country: An Afrocentric Reckoning.” Day One’s Opening Plenary address, “A Kawaida Rereading and Reflection on James Baldwin: Rethinking Racism, Reaffirmation, Resistance, and America,” will be presented by Dr. Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa Creator & Professor and Chair, Department of Africana Studies, Cal State Long Beach. Dr. Haki L. Madhubuti (BAM poet Don L. Lee), Founder and Publisher Emeritus of Third World Press & Chicago State University Emeritus Professor, will present Day Two’s Plenary message, “Poetry and Plain Talk: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, BAM, Independent Black Institutions & Me.”  

The Furious Flower Poetry Center (FFPC), led by Dr. Joanne Gabbin – James Madison University Professor of English & Founding Executive Director of its celebrated FFPC ­– will present a very special panel, “‘The Whirlwind Has One Voice’ – The Poetry of James Baldwin.” Preeminent Emmett Till Scholar & Conceptualizer of the Theory of Africana Womanism, Dr. Clenora Hudson-Weems, Ida Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor of African American Studies, University of Iowa (2021-2022) & Professor of English, University of Missouri-Columbia, will spearhead the panel, “James Baldwin: Bold, Authentic, Iconic, & Multi-Generational Artivist for Social Justice.” 

Dr. Pamela D. Reed, Associate Professor of Africana Literature and Convenor of the JABIS, interviews Val Gray Ward, Baldwin Contemporary, BAM Dramatist & Founder of Chicago’s famed Kuumba Theatre, in “Between Two Daughters of the American South: A Conversation with ‘The Voice of The Black Writer,’” to be introduced and contextualized by Dr. Daryl Cumber Dance, Folklorist, Author, and Professor Emerita, University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University. 

There will also be a special screening of the California Newsreel documentary, James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket. As well, VSU’s Dr. Billy Taylor Jazz Studies Program Ensemble and its world-renowned Gospel Chorale will perform. 

Additionally, a range of scholarly papers explore the following topics: 1) The Richard Wright Influence :: Baldwin’s Realism; 2) Teaching Activist Baldwin :: Forefather of the Black Lives Matter Movement; 4) Baldwin :: Son of Harlem & Citizen of the World; 5) James Arthur Baldwin :: Same-Gender-Loving Black Man; 6) From Disillusioned Boy Preacher to Race Man :: Baldwin & Christianity; & 7) The Genre-Defying Poetry, Plays, & Prose of James Baldwin.

Few American authors have written and spoken as unreservedly, presciently – and prophetically, even – about race in America, as did the incomparable James Arthur Baldwin. The celebrated, yet controversial, artivist – born in Harlem in 1924 – routinely held up a mirror to American society, and never bowed, despite untold dangers, until the time of his 1987 passing, in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, at age 63. 

“Baldwin’s body of work stands out in the literary canon as one of the most sublime, prolific, and imposing of the 20th Century. Not bound by genre, he wore numerous literary hats: novelist, essayist, poet, and playwright. To this day, his works and words are closely examined to pinpoint recurring themes and motifs that, even now, more than three decades since his passing, continue to resonate with – and inspire – generations of thinkers to study and build upon his ideas,” Reed noted. “As such,” she continued, “his oeuvre has become a mainstay in the canons of both American and World Literatures.” 

The late BAM Poet Laureate Amiri Baraka, in his funerary tribute at Baldwin’s Harlem Homegoing, called him “God’s Black Revolutionary Mouth,” declaring that, “if we are ever truly to be self-determining,”  Black people must celebrate Ancestor Jimmy Baldwin. “And, celebrate him, we shall,” affirmed Reed.