Next week’s outsidethemuseumblog will continue my appreciations of the current crop of exhibitions on protest and African American artists in the 1960s-. But, before it comes out, I need to make a suggestion for Saturday, September 23th. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is presenting But Then You Read, an all-day symposium on James Baldwin, who observed and participated in civil and cultural protests in that period. James Baldwin is having a protracted renaissance with popular and academic attention being paid to him and his writings. I never understood why it took so long, but it may be that the critics and historians who admired his prose and political writings were uncomfortable with his novels.
Those of you who know the person who writes this blog, know that the quotation after my e-mail signature (a practice popularized by library and publishing professionals) is the text from which Schomburg took the symposium title. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” I think of it as the theme for everyone who ever felt misunderstood or misappreciated. Reading doesn’t make the rest of the world understand or appreciate you, but it brings to your own personal angst the understanding that others have also felt angst of their own. Baldwin himself discovered books at an NYPL branch and his archives are now housed at the Schomburg.
I found the quotation from Early Essays not at The New York Public Library, but on the wall on west 19th Street. To be specific, on the gallery wall at New York Live Arts, the performing arts center. Live Arts, formed by the merger of Dance Theatre Workshop and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, has an gallery wall in full view of the street windows. It often shows art or design, while a perpendicular wall has video art. The April 2014 Liveideas (the annual humanities festival developed by New York Live Arts) was dedicated to Baldwin and quotations from his works provided the graphic installation on the window wall. The Festival events were popular and transcribing quotes would have impeded the audience getting into the performance spaces, so I returned to 19th Street and stood outside the windows to write it out. So, thank you, Bill T. for sponsoring liveideas, for your recognition of James Baldwin, and for including that quotation on the wall. Video of the Baldwin liveideas events can be found through the New York Live Arts website.
The Schomburg’s readings and discussion is presented by The New York Public Library in collaboration with Times Talks. It runs from 11 to 5. It will be livestreamed, but if you go to the Schomburg, you can also see the exhibitions, which I will be discussing in my next blog. Try not to miss the symposium – live or livestreamed.