If Beale Street Could Talk: Memphis (Blues) Diaspora (Panel)


American / Cultural Studies and Media Studies

Antonio Jenkins (Independent Scholar)

In 1974, writer James Baldwin published the novel If Beale Street Could Talk. This novel, a love story centering around the families of a young African American couple living in 1970s Harlem, New York, was adapted into a motion picture by film director Barry Jenkins (2018). Although taking place in New York City, the novel and film refer to a street in an American southern city (Memphis, Tennessee). Beale Street was the center of Mississippi Delta Blues, being home to the music, artist, and to the trains, and buses that transported it and Black folks to other urban cities, including New York.

In the 1970s, like other urban or "chocolate cities" (Hunter and Robinson, 2018), Memphis, after the assassination of Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, was not only home to the Blues, but also becoming a place where African Americans were making gains in political power, creating soul music in resistance to racist power structures and against black respectability politics.

By referencing Memphis, home of the blues narrative, both Baldwin and Jenkins have written and visualized a space which shows Black love and optimism struggling to exist under the gaze of an authoritative surveillance which seeks to extinguish both.

This is a call for papers for a panel discussion on how places in the American South are used in music, literature, and/or cinema serve as spaces for African American/Black cultural understanding. In particular this panel is looking or papers that describe or explain how Baldwin (1974) and Jenkins (2018) use Beale Street in name to narrate and visualize Black life in 1970s Harlem and beyond.

This is a call for papers for a panel discussion on how places in the American South are used in music, literature, and/or cinema serve as spaces for African American/Black cultural understanding. In particular this panel is looking or papers that describe or explain how Baldwin (1974) and Jenkins (2018) use Beale Street in name to narrate and visualize Black life in 1970s Harlem and beyond.