James Baldwin’s 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk has been enjoying renewed visibility lately, a trend that only seems set to continue in the wake of Barry Jenkins’s recent movie version. Regina King won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in the film at last month’s Academy Awards.
The novel was the subject of a noteworthy talk given in New York City earlier this winter by Gabrielle Bellot, a staff writer for Literary Hub whose work has also appeared in The New York Review of Books, Tin House, and Guernica. Speaking on January 22nd at “Close Conversations: Interpreting James Baldwin Today,” a public program of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Bellot called If Beale Street Could Talk “Baldwin’s masterpiece,” and praised its “tender depiction of black people in love,” adding, “You don’t see that as often as you might think.”
While Bellot commended Jenkins’s adaptation of Beale Street as “very moving,” she also highlighted some telling differences between it and the novel. “The sharper edges of the book are not always represented in the movie.”
Watch (begins at 15:54):
Bellot was joined at “Interpreting James Baldwin Today” by Nicholas Boggs, co-editor and author of the introduction to a new edition of Baldwin’s children’s book Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood; and author and journalist Elizabeth Howard, the inaugural Madeleine L’Engle Fellow at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The complete January 22nd talk can be viewed here.
If Beale Street Could Talk is included in the Library of America volume James Baldwin: Later Novels.
Close Conversations is a program of the Congregation of Saint Saviour at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.