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UAlbany series focuses on life and work of James Baldwin

The NYS Writers Institute and UAlbany Performing Arts Center are pleased to collaborate to present A Celebration of the Life and Legacy of James Baldwin, a series of events focusing on the life and work of the American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic on the 30th anniversary of his death.

Writing of the pain and struggle of African Americans and the saving power of brotherhood, Baldwin bore articulate witness to the unhappy consequences of American racial strife and saw his personal mission as a "witness to the truth." The series begins during Black History Month and includes readings, discussions, film screenings, and stage presentations.

Presented by the NYS Writers Institute in conjunction with the Performing Arts Center with support provided by The University at Albany Foundation, Office of Intercultural Student Engagement, University Auxiliary Services, English Department, Sexuality Month, and the Diversity Transformation Fund administered through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

The events in the series are:
Bits of Baldwin - Selections from Baldwin's works will be read by UAlbany students and Ken Screven, the first African American man to be hired as a television reporter in the Capital Region, with commentary provided by author Darryl Pinckney.

I Am Not Your Negro - Based on the unfinished memoir, Remember This House, this Oscar-nominated documentary directed by Raoul Peck presents Baldwin's meditations on the history of racism in the U.S. and his perspectives on slain Civil Rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

If Beale Street Could Talk - Adapted and directed by Elise Thoron for American Place Theatre, this Literature to Life offering is a verbatim adaptation of Baldwin's powerful novel of the same name, one which remains disturbingly poignant even 60 years after it was first published.

The following events will take place on both the uptown and downtown UAlbany campuses:
Friday, February 9
4:15 p.m. at the UAlbany Performing Arts Center (Uptown Campus) - Bits of Baldwin 7 p.m. at Page Hall (135 Western Avenue, Albany) - I Am Not Your Negro with post-screening Q&A with Darryl Pinckney

Wednesday, February 28
10 a.m. at the UAlbany Performing Arts Center - If Beale Street Could Talk (sold out) 12:15 p.m. at the UAlbany Performing Arts Center - I Am Not Your Negro 7:30 p.m. at the UAlbany Performing Arts Center - If Beale Street Could Talk (discussion at 7 p.m.)

Thursday, March 1
10 a.m. at the UAlbany Performing Arts Center - If Beale Street Could Talk (sold out) 12:15 p.m. at the UAlbany Performing Arts Center - I Am Not Your Negro

Therman B. O’Daniel, writing in the College Language Association Journal said, "Baldwin is a bold and courageous writer who is not afraid to search into the dark corners of our social consciences, and to force out into public view many of the hidden, sordid skeletons of our society" while Juan Williams, in The Washington Post, wrote: "Given the messy nature of racial hatred, of the half-truths, blasphemies and lies that make up American life, Baldwin’s accuracy in reproducing that world stands as a remarkable achievement... Black people reading Baldwin knew he wrote the truth. White people reading Baldwin sensed his truth about the lives of black people and the sins of a racist nation."

Baldwin saw himself as a "disturber of the peace" — one who revealed uncomfortable truths to a society mired in complacency. "You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can't, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world... The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way... people look at reality, then you can change it," wrote Baldwin.

Novelist, playwright, and essayist Darryl Pinckney, left, will participate in two of the events. John Freeman wrote in The Boston Globe, "Darryl Pinckney probably knows Baldwin’s life and work better than any living American, and in his long-awaited second novel, Black Deutschland, he pays Baldwin the highest tribute: telling a story in which a man much like Baldwin — a gay, black, alcoholic ex-pat — learns that who he is, who he loves, where he’s from can’t be disentangled." In The New York Times, A.O. Scott called I Am Not Your Negro, "an uncanny and thrilling communion between the filmmaker…and his subject.

The voice-over narration (read by Samuel L. Jackson) is entirely drawn from Baldwin’s work…His published and unpublished words…some of the most powerful and penetrating ever assembled on the tortured subject of American identity." He also wrote, "Whatever you think about the past and future of what used to be called 'race relations' — white supremacy and the resistance to it, in plainer English — this movie will make you think again, and may even change your mind."

The history of American Place Theatre (APT) is rich and varied with a consistent commitment to nurturing the talents of American authors, playwrights and actors. Having received more than 30 Obie awards and 16 Vivian Robinson/AUDELCO Awards, its Literature to Life series offers professionally staged theatrical adaptations of significant American literary works. If Beale Street Could Talk is performed by Channie Waites, a performing artist, director, facilitator, educator, and audiobook narrator who has toured and performed professionally within the United States and abroad.

Events in the series are free except for the performances of If Beale Street Could Talk. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show on February 28 are $15 for the general public and $10 for students, seniors and UAlbany faculty/staff when purchased in advance. Pending availability, tickets will be sold on the day of the show at $20 for the general public and $15 for students, seniors and UAlbany faculty/staff.

Tickets and information on all events are available through the UAlbany Performing Arts Center’s box office at 518-442-3997 or tickets@albany.edu.

The series is offered with support from the University at Albany Foundation, Office of Intercultural Student Engagement, University Auxiliary Services and the Diversity Transformation Fund administered through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.