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Saving the French Home of James Baldwin

By Audrey Golden. Nov 3, 2016. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American Literature, Literature, Literary travel

If you’re a book collector or an avid reader, chances are you’ve visited the home of at least one notable writer. In all likelihood, if you’re like us, you seek out authors’ homes whenever you’re on vacation or traveling to a new city. What do you gain from visiting the home of a writer? Trips like these give us unparalleled access to the ambiences in which works, both small and great, arose. After all, what can be more intimate—other than, perhaps, immersing yourself in the literary worlds created by great masters of fiction—than standing in the office, kitchen, or bedroom of a writer whose work you’ve found refreshing, inspiring, life-affirming, and all of the other adjectives that are particular to our own individual experiences? We hope you agree that such literary travels are important, and on that note, we need to tell you that the French home of the author and activist James Baldwin is set for demolition.

Home of a Literary and Political Legend Could Become the Stuff of History

James-BaldwinJames Baldwin famously traveled between New York and Paris during his lifetime, and in 1948, he moved into a home in Saint-Paul de Vence in the south of France. He lived there with his lover, Lucien Happersberger, according to a recent article* in OUT Magazine, and it served as the location in which Baldwin lived for several decades. As a queer African-American writer, Baldwin’s work has been instrumental in civil rights activism from its inception into the present day. He died on the land in 1987, at which point the home became the property of Baldwin’s brother, David. However, David passed away recently, and the house of the late, great writer is set to be demolished. How could this happen?

Since David’s death, Baldwin’s estate became the property of his former landlady, Jeanne Fauré. In a short time, a French real estate developer bought the property with plans to “demolish the structure and build luxury villas,” according to the article. Much of the house has “fallen into disrepair,” but the most important room remains completely intact: the writing room. In addition to the works that Baldwin produced while living in Saint-Paul de Vence, his home was also an important place for like-minded writers, artists, and activists to gather. For example, figures including Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Quincy Jones, and Sidney Poitier visited Baldwin in the south of France. Beauford Delaney, a gay modernist painter, also created “many of his notable works on the location.”

Saving the House from Destruction

James-BaldwinIt was in the Saint-Paul house that Baldwin wrote masterpieces like Go Tell It on the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, and Another Country, according to an article** in Le Monde. Knowing the significance of the space, we must do something to save it. The Le Monde article emphasizes that, although the home needs some restoration efforts, “much of it remains salvageable.” In other words, the house can be renovated so that visitors, and perhaps even writers in residence, can learn from the history of this important space.

The James Baldwin Foundation website provides more information about what you can do to lend a hand in saving this property. In the event that you need another reason to help with this project, Toni Morrison has voiced her support, Le Monde reports. Yes, that’s right: by supporting the James Baldwin Foundation’s efforts to save the writer’s home, you’ll be in league with Toni Morrison. And who wouldn’t want to make that claim to fame?

Browse James Baldwin Books

*Read the full OUT Magazine article here. **Read the full Le Monde artcle here.

Audrey Golden
World literature scholar and erstwhile lawyer. Lover of international travel, outdoor markets, and rare books.


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