FARMINGTON — James Baldwin, American novelist, playwright and activist, is the next featured topic of the University of Maine at Farmington’s New Commons Project. The events on James Baldwin are free and open to the public and will run from Nov. 21 through Dec. 5, according to a news release from UMF.

James Baldwin, American novelist, playwright and civil rights activist. Photo courtesy of UMF

Baldwin was renowned as one of the country’s most vocal advocates for equality and one of the most important authors in the modern American canon. His 1963 non-fiction book, “The Fire Next Time,” was a national bestseller that galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement.

Born in Harlem, New York, in 1924, to a life of poverty and persecution, Baldwin spent much of his early years in libraries where he developed a passion for writing. Throughout his writing career, he experimented with literary forms on topics exploring racial, sexual and class distinctions in Western Society. His passionate, intensely personal essays in the 1950s and 60s made him an eloquent voice for the civil rights movement.

“I Am Not Your Negro” is a critically-acclaimed 2016 film based on “Remember This House,” an unfinished manuscript of Baldwin’s. He died in 1987, never wanting to be a spokesperson, but saw his personal mission as bearing witness to the truth.

The following events are scheduled:

• The New Commons Film Series: “I Am Not Your Negro” is set for 7:30- 9:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 21, in Lincoln Auditorium, Roberts Learning Center, UMF campus.
The film is an Oscar-nominated 2016 documentary highlighting Baldwin’s observations on American history and racism. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, “I am Not Your Negro” is inspired by Baldwin’s unfinished 1970s work “Remember This House.” The documentary explores Baldwin’s thoughts on and relationships with civil rights leaders of the 1960s such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers.

• James Baldwin Symposium will be open from 9:45 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, at the Emery Community Arts Center, UMF campus.
Join Guy Mark Foster, Baldwin scholar and associate professor of English at Bowdoin College; Stefania Heim, poet, scholar, translator, editor and educator; Ian Davis, scholar of transnational modernisms, race, gender and sexuality and Julian Randall, author of “Refuse,” for a day-long consideration and discussion of the importance, impact and nuance of the writing of Baldwin as part of the New Commons Project’s focus on “The Fire Next Time.”

• Poetry Reading with Stefania Heim, Julian Randall and Kristen Case will begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, at Twice Sold Tales, 155 Main St., Farmington.
Award-winning authors Heim, poet, scholar, translator, editor and educator; Randall, author of “Refuse” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018) that won the 2017 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and Case, associate professor English at UMF will be featured at this event.

• Keynote Event: Jericho Brown, “The Cultural Import of James Baldwin and The Tradition” is scheduled from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at the Emery Community Arts Center, UMF campus.
Scholar and poet Jericho Brown, associate professor and the director of the creative writing program at Emory University, will discuss his own work, as well as situate Baldwin’s writing within a linage of creative African American cultural criticism. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study at Harvard, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and he is the winner of the Whiting Writers Award. Currently, he is focused on his recently-published “The Tradition,” a poetry collection “relentless in its quest for survival while reveling in a celebration of contradiction.”

Scholar and poet Jericho Brown, associate professor and the director of the creative writing program at Emory University.

• The New Commons Film Series: “I Am Not Your Negro” will be screened at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12, at Indigo Arts Alliance, 60 Cove St., Portland.
Shay Stewart Bouley, founder of the celebrated digital platform Black Girl in Maine, will introduce a special screening of “I Am Not Your Negro,” an Oscar-nominated 2016 documentary highlighting James Baldwin’s observations on American history and racism.

The New Commons Project is a public humanities initiative of the University of Maine at Farmington, Maine’s public liberal arts college, in partnership with the Maine Humanities Council. It is made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The project’s 12 topics so far have been submitted by people from around the state and represent some of the principles and cultural values that fascinate Maine citizens.

To learn more about the New Commons Project, or to submit a nomination for the next round of selections, visit newcommonsproject.org.

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