“Digital Baldwin” at Rhodes 

"I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain."

— James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

James Baldwin was a lot of things: author, playwright, essayist, activist, etc. Although he's best remembered for groundbreaking works like Notes of a Native Son, If Beale Street Could Talk, and The Fire Next Time, these days the African-American intellectual who found common ground with both MLK and Malcolm X may be best known by way of various internet memes. Rhodes College's Communities in Conversation, in partnership with the University of Memphis English department is hosting a series of events designed to look at Baldwin's prescience and, in this specific instance, to ask what it means to be memed.

click to enlarge “Digital Baldwin” at Rhodes College Hardie Auditorium, Thursday
  • “Digital Baldwin” at Rhodes College Hardie Auditorium, Thursday

Rhodes history professor and Spence L. Wilson Chair in Humanities Jonathan Judaken describes "Digital Baldwin" as a warm-up act for the two-day "Baldwin Now" symposium coming in March. It arrives, appropriately enough, during a period of renewed political activism, from Black Lives Matter to the Women's March.

"What we wanted to do was put together a series of events that would allow us to think about Baldwin in a deeper way," Judaken says. "To ask why Baldwin now? Why is it that he seems to be the voice so many people are reaching to to think about issues of race in America today."

Judaken wants "Digital Baldwin" to serve as a backdrop for the coming symposium and create opportunities for contextualizing isolated quotes students might encounter while scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Speakers include Baldwin expert, Ernest Gibson, modern African-American literature specialist Terrence Tucker, and cultural studies scholar Zandria Robinson.



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