If Beale Street Could Talk (1974): James Baldwin

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Since the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013, James Baldwin’s life and work have undergone a renaissance in and outside of the academy. His penultimate novel, If Beale Street Could Talk, which recounts the story of a young African American man who is falsely imprisoned, resonates not only with the Black Lives Matter movement but with the history of mass incarceration. As scholars such as Elizabeth Hinton have demonstrated, draconian prison sentences and police surveillance were inextricably linked to the Civil Rights Movement. If Beale Street Could Talk can be read as a novel that responds directly to the oppressive shifts in policing measures during the 1960s. In fact, as scholars such as D. Quentin Miller have argued, much of Baldwin’s work is preoccupied with what the writer called “the criminal power” of white authority. Examining one of Baldwin’s least studied novels through the lens of carceral studies sheds light on his development as a writer at a point in his career when critics were dismissing him as out of touch with the harsh realities of American political life.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Novel and Politics
EditorsBryan M. Santin
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781009030274
ISBN (Print)9781009015660
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2023


  • James Baldwin
  • If Beale Street Could Talk
  • mass incarceration
  • President Nixon
  • President Johnson
  • war on crime
  • criminal


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