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The life and work of the American writer and civil rights campaigner James Baldwin, who died in 1987, is to be celebrated in the UK later this year with a festival entitled Conversations with Baldwin taking place in London and Bristol. The festival will be a scene setter before more events in 2024 to celebrate the centenary of Baldwin’s birth.
Conversations with Baldwin is organised by the UK’s Words of Colour, which describes itself as an “immersive change agency aimed at nurturing and training a new generation of writers from racially and culturally diverse communities to enable their work to be published and performed”.
The festival will celebrate and examine the legacy of American author and intellectual James Baldwin (1924 – 1987), one of the 20th century’s greatest authors, with book clubs, live literature events, virtual salons, film screenings and workshops.
Hosted in Bristol and London from September to October 2023, Conversations with Baldwin will be a hybrid festival – 50% of the programme takes place online for increased accessibility. It will include a Conversations with Baldwin Book Club, which Baldwin lovers can attend virtually or in-person to discuss two of Baldwin’s most popular works: Giovanni’s Room (1956) and Notes of a Native Son (1955).
Artists already confirmed include internationally renowned poet Muneera Pilgrim, drag performer Ernest the Drag King, poetry and dance duo Saili Katebe and Deepraj Singh, and BlkOut UK founder Dr Rob Berkeley.
Conversations with Baldwin culminates in a live literature cabaret at Arnolfini gallery in Bristol in October, in collaboration with live poetry producers Raise the Bar.
The Conversations with Baldwin Film Club will showcase films and documentaries on Baldwin’s life and work in London and at The Cube in Bristol. There will be virtual panel discussions on Baldwin’s literature, as well as virtual and in-person workshops for writers and aspiring change agents.
The festival is partnering with Penguin Classics, Baldwin’s sole UK publisher, international contemporary gallery Arnolfini, live poetry producers Raise the Bar, independent bookstores Libreria and Bookhaus, and Hackney Libraries and Bristol Libraries.
Heather Marks, Words of Colour’s creative producer and Conversations with Baldwin festival curator, said: “James Baldwin is one of those writers whose words change your life forever. With the centenary of his birth in 2024, Conversations with Baldwin is an opportunity to share and create that moment between us – whether you’re reading him for the first time, or revisiting an old favourite. It’s a chance to come together and reflect on why his writing – his orature and his activism – still hold so much sway for us today.
Josephine Greywoode, James Baldwin’s editor and publishing director of Penguin Press, said: “James Baldwin is one of the most important voices of the 20th century, resonating as strongly today as ever. We are so pleased to be celebrating his centenary year – and the immense contribution his writing continues to bring to the world – through this programme, which will bring a new generation of readers to Baldwin’s timeless works.”
Conversations with Baldwin is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.