James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk may have been published in 1974, but the novel—about a woman fighting to clear the name of the man she loves—transcends time.
When Fonny and Tish, an African American couple living in Harlem in the early ‘70s, get engaged it comes as a surprise to their unsuspecting families. All seems well—until Fonny is jailed after being falsely accused by a racist white policeman of raping a Puerto Rican woman. Tish, who discovers she is pregnant, fights to prove Fonny’s innocence before the birth of their child because, as Baldwin writes: “It’s a miracle to realize that somebody loves you.”
Beale Street is Baldwin’s fifth of six novels (he also published several essay and poetry collections.) The American writer and activist counted legends such as Nina Simone, Marlon Brando, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou as friends. He also famously debated William F. Buckley at Cambridge University in 1965 and frequently appeared on the Dick Cavett Show where he reliably delivered eloquent and razor-sharp observations on race in America. Baldwin died in France of stomach cancer. He was 63.
A critically acclaimed documentary about Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro, premiered in 2016. And this year the film adaptation of Beale Street hits theatres on Christmas Day. It comes courtesy of director Barry Jenkins, who took home the Best Picture Oscar last year for Moonlight. Beale Street, which the Atlantic says “is furious, sad, and cynical, but also soaring, loving, and at times genuinely delightful,” has already been nominated for three Golden Globes and is most certainly a Academy Award contender.
We’ll be discussing If Beale Street Could Talk—the book, not the movie…no cheating!—the week of Jan. 28 so get a copy and join the conversation. Until then, happy reading, and happy holidays.