Professors William Dow and Alice Craven first discovered that they worked well together in 2008, when they put together a wildly successful centenary conference on Richard Wright. After attending a 2011 conference entitled “James Baldwin’s Global Imagination”, and after Professor Craven had taught a course on Baldwin in New York in 2012, both felt that the time had come to bring Baldwin to AUP.
After years of organization, with help from those who had worked on the 2011 conference, the two professors’ efforts culminated in the extremely well-attended “A Language to Dwell In”, held at AUP from May 26th to May 28th, 2016. Their mission was to incite broad international and interdisciplinary explorations of Baldwin’s life and writings, especially in connection with Paris. The conference provided a platform, where people from an array of backgrounds and nationalities could speak on Baldwin, using subjects that ranged from the history of African-American artists in Paris, to the ethics and emotions within selected works, to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Drawing crowds from across disciplines, including filmmakers, cultural critics, museum curators, academics, activists, and students, Professors Craven and Dow wanted participants to engage with people whom they might never have otherwise spoken to about Baldwin. As Professor Craven noted in her opening remarks, everyone present had been profoundly influenced by this writer. From performance artists to scholars, all cited him as the inspiration for the direction in which they had taken their interests and careers.
Professors Craven and Dow also hoped to create a zone of communication and solidarity. There was a distinct effort made to ensure that all of the speakers represented a diverse mixture of backgrounds, even if their areas of study and research did not involve Baldwin specifically. By using Baldwin’s work as a starting point, participants were able to discuss his significance as it pertained to race, gender identity, and national mythologies, in a respectful and protected environment.
By establishing a space where James Baldwin could be considered from varying perspectives, Professors Dow and Craven succeeded in setting up a weekend of open, international dialogue, continuing in the AUP tradition of promoting such conversations, inside and outside the classroom. For those who might have missed this remarkable weekend, efforts are being made to organize another Baldwin conference in 2018, in Istanbul. Plan your trip now!
Professor William Dow speaking at James Baldwin Conference 2016 // Photo courtesy of US Embassy France