Thursday, 22 October 2015

Open Access Week - James Baldwin Review

By Justin A. Joyce and Douglas Field

James Baldwin Review is proud to announce the publication of its inaugural volume. James Baldwin Review (JBR) is an annual, peer-reviewed journal that brings together a wide array of critical and creative work on the life, writings, and legacy of a groundbreaking 20th century American author, James Baldwin. Extending discussion of Baldwin’s writing and its impacts beyond academia is one of the core aims of JBR. Towards this end, the journal is published online, available for free, in an open access partnership between Northwestern University, Manchester University Press, and the University of Manchester Library.

Although James Baldwin's work has started to receive considerable scholarly attention, and though he is cited widely on the Internet in epigraphic and aphoristic ways, his legacy has been far from secure. While there are smatterings of his archive at the Schomburg Center for Black Research and Culture in New York City, for example, the collection is less significant than his peers, including that of Richard Wright, an African American writer with whom he is frequently compared. Spurred on by two important collections of essays on Baldwin's work—D. Quentin Miller's 1999 volume, Re-Viewing James Baldwin: Things Not Seen, and Dwight McBride's collection of essays, James Baldwin Now, published a year later—Baldwin scholars began to discuss in earnest ways how we might build on this important work, while also helping to cement the author's place as a central figure in 20th century American culture. JBR sprang out of a perceived need to create an established forum for the exciting new scholarship that focused on the author, as well as encouraging participants at international conferences on Baldwin to develop their ideas (London 2007; Boston 2009; Montpellier, 2014; and Paris, 2016), in well-written, jargon-free prose that might appeal to non-academics, too. The aim of the journal, which carries echoes of The Henry James Review (Johns Hopkins University Press), one of Baldwin's literary heroes, is to gather together new and established critical writers in order to continue and develop the important scholarly work of previous generations, but also to look afresh at his less well-known work and to reassess his continuing political and cultural relevance.

It was determined from the outset that the journal would be a collaborative project; that it would involve a number of scholars and artists in order to reflect the multi-faceted nature of Baldwin's life and work. Approximately six years ago, Doug Field, a noted Baldwin scholar whose new book All Those Strangers: The Art and Lives of James Baldwin is fresh out from Oxford University Press, formed a partnership with Dwight A. McBride and Justin A. Joyce, both with The Graduate School at Northwestern University. After nearly two years exploring different revenue models for founding and funding a journal, it became clear that with funding from our respective institutions (University of Manchester and Northwestern University), we could create our own model, thanks to the pioneering approach to Open Access publishing both at the University of Manchester Library and also at Manchester University Press.  The Open Access model was not only a financially viable model, it’s more egalitarian ethos also fit well with the spirit of Baldwin's work, which continues to demand attention, not only from the Academy, but from a wide cross-section of society across the globe, which is a fitting tribute to this self-styled transatlantic commuter. 

We are very proud to be able to announce our journal in conjunction with Open Access Week, and to join the global community of scientists, researchers, and scholars who are working to limit the barriers of access to knowledge by publishing in Open Access forums and repositories. Publishing our journal under a Creative Commons open access license allows Baldwin scholars, students, and enthusiasts an accessible forum for sustaining interest in the life, works, and legacies of this vital 20th century American writer.

For a humanities journal, and specifically one concentrating on such a prophetic and inspiring voice, our aim is perhaps slightly different than the core of scientific journals utilizing Open Access to spread "knowledge". Opening the doors of access to current research can also touch us in profoundly emotional ways. As Baldwin himself once wrote, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” As Baldwin scholars, our push is to make as widely available as possible the voices, views, and lives that move us, to empathy, to understanding, to new ideas about ourselves, each other, and our places in the world. Words that move us, in short, to action.

The inaugural volume of JBR contains a mix of formal and informal tones, of experienced writers and new voices. These essays are accompanied by an award-winning graduate student essay, journalistic and autobiographical reflections, and a review of significant scholarly works on Baldwin. Our first volume also proudly features new words and new works to examine and explore, including an interview with Baldwin that has not previously been published in English and an essay on “The Hallelujah Chorus,” Baldwin’s largely forgotten collaboration with Ray Charles. Volume 1 also contains extended discussions of the importance of music to Baldwin’s life and work, along with instrumental and vocal performances on the JBR website.

Volume 1 (2015) of JBR can be found here:

JBR is currently accepting submissions for its second volume (2016). The call for papers and information about submissions can be found on our website:

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