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James Baldwin and the 1980s

Witnessing the Reagan Era

Rediscovering the iconic writer's lost decade

By the 1980s, critics and the public alike considered James Baldwin irrelevant. Yet Baldwin remained an important, prolific writer until his death in 1987. Indeed, his work throughout the decade pushed him into new areas, in particular an expanded interest in the social and psychological consequences of popular culture and mass media.

Joseph Vogel offers the first in-depth look at Baldwin's dynamic final decade of work. Delving into the writer's creative endeavors, crucial essays and articles, and the impassioned polemic The Evidence of Things Not Seen, Vogel finds Baldwin as prescient and fearless as ever. Baldwin's sustained grappling with "the great transforming energy" of mass culture revealed his gifts for media and cultural criticism. It also brought him into the fray on issues ranging from the Reagan-era culture wars to the New South, from the deterioration of inner cities to the disproportionate incarceration of black youth, and from pop culture gender-bending to the evolving women's and gay rights movements.

Astute and compelling, James Baldwin and the 1980s revives and redeems the final act of a great American writer.

"In his incisively reasoned and beautifully written volume, James Baldwin and The 1980s: Witnessing the Reagan Era, Joseph Vogel picks up on Baldwin's theme of digging through the rubble and, in doing so, unearths new pieces of Baldwin's late years." —Black Perspectives

"A stand-out in recent African American history and literary studies, certainly worth the time of anyone interested in Baldwin or modern America." —Robert Greene II, Society for U.S. Intellectual History Book Review (online)

"Vogel help[s] us to 'catch up' to Baldwin by freeing us from previous misconceptions of the important work he did in his late career." —African American Review

"Among the most valuable contributions of Vogel's book is an entire chapter devoted to Baldwin's as yet unpublished play, The Welcome Table. . . . Vogel's adept interpretation of the play . . . is among the strongest works on late Baldwin now in print." --Journal of American History

"Clearly and concisely written with a snap in his prose. No one has focused on this era and its unique importance in the way Joseph Vogel has done."--Ed Pavli , author of Who Can Afford to Improvise? James Baldwin and Black Music, the Lyric and the Listeners

"While scholars have started to chip away at the critical consensus that James Baldwin lost his way as a writer after the mid-1960s, very few critics have paid attention to the last decade of the writer’s work. As Vogel argues in this insightful and elegantly written book, Baldwin remained a vital force in American letters."--Douglas Field, author of All Those Strangers: The Art and Lives of James Baldwin

Joseph Vogel is an assistant professor of English at Merrimack College. He is the author of Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson.

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