Conversations with Baldwin arts festival – celebrating twentieth century author and activist James Baldwin, September – October 2023

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  • Conversations with Baldwin

    Celebrating 20th century author and activist James Baldwin this September – October 2023


    Words of Colour is excited to announce Conversations with Baldwin, a new hybrid arts festival exploring the legacy, impact, and activism of acclaimed 20th century author and civil rights advocate James Baldwin. 

    Conversations with Baldwin celebrates and examines the legacy of American author and intellectual James Baldwin (1924 – 1987), one of the 20th century’s greatest authors, with book clubs, live literature events, virtual salons, film screenings and workshops. The festival is curated in anticipation of 2024, which will commemorate the centenary of Baldwin’s birth with the return of a larger Conversations with Baldwin festival.

    A black and white photo of the author James Baldwin. He is looking off camera and smiling. He wears a pale shirt and jacket, and a striped tie.

    James Baldwin in Hyde Park, London, 1969. Credit: Allan Warren.

    Hosted in Bristol and London from September to October 2023, Conversations with Baldwin is a hybrid festival – 50% of the programme takes place online for increased accessibility.

    We have the Conversations with Baldwin Book Club, which Baldwin lovers can attend virtually or in-person to discuss two of Baldwin’s most popular works: Giovanni’s Room (1956) and Notes of a Native Son (1955).

    There’s also the Conversations with Baldwin Film Club which will showcase films and documentaries that speak to Baldwin’s life and work in London at The Ministry and at The Cube in Bristol.

    Conversations with Baldwin: The Salon will platform virtual panel discussions on Baldwin’s literature, while The Creators Space will host virtual and in-person workshops for writers and aspiring change agents. 

    We’re excited to be partnered with Penguin Classics, Baldwin’s UK publisher, international contemporary gallery Arnolfini, live poetry producers Raise the Bar, independent bookstores Libreria and Bookhaus, The Ministry, The Cube, and Hackney Libraries and Bristol Libraries.

    So who is on the lineup? Internationally renowned poet Muneera Pilgrim, drag king and queen Ernest the Drag King and Mariana Trench, poetry and dance duo Saili Katebe and Deepraj Singh, BlkOut UK founder Dr Rob Berkeley, and award-winning poet Raymond Antrobus. The full festival lineup will be announced throughout August 2023

    Conversations with Baldwin culminates in a live cabaret at Arnolfini, Bristol, in collaboration with live poetry producers Raise the Bar on Saturday 21 October 2023

    Conversations with Baldwin is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

    Produced by Words of Colour

    The Immersive Change Agency

    creating alternative pathways and sustainable opportunities for writers, creatives, entrepreneurs and communities of colour to thrive, for unheard stories to be told and underrepresented talent to shine.

  • James Baldwin was born in Harlem, New York, in 1924. He was reared by his mother Emma Berdis Jones and stepfather David Baldwin, a Baptist preacher, originally from New Orleans, Louisiana. James Baldwin was the eldest of nine children, and he took this responsibility seriously, caring for and protecting his three younger brothers and five sisters in a household governed by the rigid rules of their extremely strict father.

    During his early teen years, Baldwin attended Frederick Douglass Junior High School, where he met his French teacher and mentor Countee Cullen, who achieved prominence as a poet of the Harlem Renaissance. Baldwin went on to the predominantly white DeWitt Clinton High School, where he edited the school newspaper Magpie, with Richard Avedon, Emile Capouya and Sol Stein (who would go on to become renowned fashion photographers and publishers), and participated in the literary club.

    Between the ages of fourteen and seventeen, Baldwin became a preacher at the Fireside Pentecostal Assembly. He would go on to write about his boyhood in this religious community in 1930s Harlem in his debut novel Go Tell It On the Mountain (1953) – a blazing tale full of passion and guilt, of secret sinners and prayers singing on the wind.

    Baldwin later rejected the church, but his time at the pulpit would have a sustained impact on his rhetorical style and on the themes, symbols, and biblical allusions in his writings. His experience in the pulpit also served to inflect his overall stance on religion, and his ultimate rejection of it in the name of humanistic love. In The Fire Next Time, Baldwin proclaims, “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, it is time we got rid of Him.”

    At seventeen, Baldwin left school to earn a living so that he could support his family. He began working at a track depot in New Jersey, and it was here he experienced such racism from his white co-workers that he would later name in Notes of a Native Son as part of the reason he left America. In 1948, feeling stifled by racial discrimination in America, Baldwin travelled to Paris at the age of 24 with just $40 in his pocket.

    It was in Paris that Baldwin would become part of a bustling literary and artistic community that included writer and mentor Richard Wright (with whom Baldwin would later fall out), painter Beauford Delaney, the composer Howard Swanson, the dancer Bernard Hassell and the writer Maya Angelou. Here, sitting in the Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots, and between trips to Switzerland, Spain, and the United States, Baldwin would go on to create masterpieces of the American literary canon.

    His first novel Go Tell It On The Mountain was published in 1953, followed by his debut essay collection Notes of a Native Son in 1955, in which he wrote about race, Paris, and criticised his mentor Richard Wright (the two would later have a huge fight outside the Café de Flore). Giovanni’s Room, his second novel about an ill-fated love affair between an American ex-soldier and an Italian barman, proved so provocative to Baldwin’s American publisher Knopf they refused to publish it (the book was later published by Dial Press in 1956).

    After an itinerant decade in Paris, Baldwin returned to the US and became an active member of the Civil Rights Movement. He became close friends with Medgar Evers, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Nina Simone, and Lorraine Hansberry. During this time, he spoke widely about civil rights in the US and abroad, most notably at a legendary debate with William Buckley at the University of Cambridge.

    In 1963, Baldwin attended the March on Washington alongside his friends Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, and Marlon Brando, and later, along with Belafonte, actor Lena Horne, and his writer friend Hansberry, spoke explicitly with Attorney General Robert Kennedy about the concerns of the civil rights movement in America. The assassinations of Evers, King and X that were to come that decade would have a profound impact on Baldwin.

    Living abroad, away from America, was a constant in James Baldwin’s life. Beginning in 1961, Baldwin lived in Istanbul on and off for nearly ten years. This Turkish decade provided a reprieve from America’s homophobia and racism during the height of the civil rights struggles. At the time, Baldwin told his friend, assistant, and drama critic Zeynep Oral, “I can’t breathe, I have to look from the outside.”

    Living in Turkey gave Baldwin the perspective to critically analyse life in America. In the short film “James Baldwin: From Another Place“, directed by his friend Sedat Pakay in 1970, Baldwin states “one sees it better from a distance … from another place, another country.” In Istanbul, Baldwin completed the novels Another Country (1962) and Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (1968), the play Blues for Mister Charlie (1964), a book of short stories Going to Meet the Man (1965), and the collection of essays The Fire Next Time (1963) and No Name in the Street (1972).

    Baldwin later settled in St. Paul de Vence, France. He remained an outspoken observer of race relations, and branched out into other forms of creative expression, writing poetry and screenplays, including treatments for the Autobiography of Malcolm X that later inspired Spike Lee’s feature film, Malcolm X. He also spent years as a college professor at University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Hampshire College. His unfinished manuscript Remember This House was the subject of the critically acclaimed 2016 Raoul Peck film, I Am Not Your Negro, and his novel If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) was adapted into an award-winning film by Barry Jenkins.

    Baldwin died at his home in St. Paul de Vence, France, on December 1, 1987, of stomach cancer at age 63. His works challenged us to uphold equality and justice, and contributed vastly to the artistic and intellectual landscape of the 20th century. His influence has been felt by readers and artists all over the world.





  • Partners

  • Conversations with Baldwin 2023 Festival – Events

    Here you can find the full Conversations with Baldwin 2023 Festival programme. We will be adding to this throughout August with new events and guest speakers, so why not sign up to our mailing list to get all the festival news straight to your inbox?



    Conversations with Baldwin Book Club – Giovanni’s Room: Tue 5 Sep @ Libreria, 7pm BST

    Join us at Libreria where we will be reading Giovanni’s Room (1956) by James Baldwin. Book here.


    Conversations with Baldwin: The Salon – Baldwin on Love: Thur 7 Sep, 7pm BST

    A digital panel discussion exploring love in the literature of James Baldwin, and why he kept returning to it as a means of radical liberation. With BlkOut UK founder and former Runnymede Trust director Dr Rob Berkeley, Professor Thomas Glave (SUNY Binghamton), and film director Campbell X (Stud Life). This event is BSL interpreted. Book here.


    Conversations with Baldwin Book Club – Giovanni’s Room (DIGITAL): Tue 12 Sep, 6.30pm BST

    If you can’t make it in person to Libreria, don’t worry! Join us online for a reading group discussion of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (1956). Hosted with Hackney Libraries. Book here.


    Conversations with Baldwin Film Club – Moonlight: Wed 13 Sep @ The Ministry, 6.30pm BST

    An evening of cinematic exploration as we delve into the critically acclaimed film Moonlight (2016), directed by Barry Jenkins. Join us in-person at The Ministry in London to watch this captivating story and engage in conversation with fellow film enthusiasts. Book here.



    Conversations with Baldwin Book Club – Notes of a Native Son: Mon 2 Oct @ bookhaus, 7pm BST

    Join us for our next Book Club at bookhaus. This month, we are reading James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son (1955). Special guest: author and screenwriter Nikesh Shukla! Book here.


    Conversations with Baldwin Book Club – Notes of a Native Son (DIGITAL): Tue 3 Oct, 10.45am BST

    If you can’t make it in person to bookhaus, or you joined us last month, you can still keep the discussion going with our online Book Club! Join us online for a reading group discussion of James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son (1955). Hosted with Bristol Libraries. Book here.


    Conversations with Baldwin: The Salon – Baldwin on Friendship: Wed 4 Oct, 7pm BST

    An online panel discussion examining the influence of artistic community in Baldwin’s life. With author and publisher Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Dr Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman, award-winning author Moses McKenzie, and editor Lisa Pegram. This event is BSL interpreted. Book here.


    Conversations with Baldwin: Creators Space – A Baldwinian Method: Wed 11 Oct, 6.30pm – 9pm BST

    What does a socially engaged practice inspired by James Baldwin look like? The Creators Space – A Baldwinian Method is an experimental testing space looking at how we can construct actionable plans for social change through a Baldwin-inspired lens. Led by Baldwin scholar Dr Vivian Latinwo-Olajide and psychotherapist, social change advocate and Words of Colour’s Director of Creative Wellbeing, Suzanne Lyn-Cook. Book here.


    Conversations with Baldwin Film Club – I Am Not Your Negro: Tue 17 Oct @ The Cube – 6.30pm BST

    Join us for an exciting evening of thought-provoking cinema and engaging discussions at the Conversations with Baldwin Film Club. This month, we will be screening the powerful documentary I Am Not Your Negro (2016), directed by Raoul Peck, at The Cube Microplex in Bristol. Book here.


    Conversations with Baldwin: Creators Space – The Writers Workshop: Sat 21 Oct @ Arnolfini, 2pm – 4pm BST

    A workshop for writers to analyse the writing of James Baldwin and work on their own craft. Facilitated by award-winning poet Raymond Antrobus. This event is in person at Arnolfini and part of the city-wide Baldwin in Bristol week. This event is wheelchair accessible. The listing is now on Headfirst – Book here.


    Conversations with Baldwin – LIVE: Sat 21 Oct @ Arnolfini, 7pm BST

    Raise the Bar and Words of Colour are teaming up to bring you Conversations with Baldwin: LIVE – a cabaret of Poetry, Dance and Drag celebrating 20th-century author James Baldwin. Featuring Muneera Pilgrim, Saili Katebe, Deepraj Singh, Ernest the Drag King, and Raymond Antrobus. Book your tickets via Headfirst.

    This event is wheelchair accessible and BSL interpreted. Conversations with Baldwin: LIVE is part of the city-wide Baldwin in Bristol week.

  • “James Baldwin is one of those writers whose words change your life forever. With the centenary of his birth in 2024, Conversations with Baldwin is an opportunity to share and create that moment between us – whether you’re reading him for the first time, or revisiting an old favourite. It’s a chance to come together and reflect on why his writing – his orature and his activism – still hold so much sway for us today.”

    Heather Marks, Words of Colour’s Creative Producer and Conversations with Baldwin Festival Curator

    “James Baldwin is one of the most important voices of the 20th century, resonating as strongly today as ever. We are so pleased to be celebrating his centenary year – and the immense contribution his writing continues to bring to the world – through this programme, which will bring a new generation of readers to Baldwin’s timeless works.”

    Josephine Greywoode, James Baldwin’s editor and Publishing Director of Penguin Press

    We’re so excited to work with Words on Colour to deliver an eclectic poetry event celebrating James Baldwin ahead of the centenary year of his birth. Baldwin’s ambitious themes and searching language still reverberate years later, and echo Raise the Bar’s aim today of using poetry as a tool for radical change and self-expression. This will be a great night at Arnolfini!”

    Danny Pandolfi, Director of Raise the Bar

    “A vital and enriching celebration of a literary giant.”

    Irenosen Okojie MBE, author and Faculty of Fiction at La Maison Baldwin

    All of us at Arnolfini are delighted to be co-hosting this programme of work by Words of Colour, a homage and a response to the inspirational legacy of James Baldwin.”

    Phil Owens, Head of Events at Arnolfini
  • Media Contact: Heather Marks, Words of Colour – [email protected]

    Press Pack:

    Hashtag: #ConversationswithBaldwin

    About Words of Colour

    Words of Colour is ‘The Immersive Change Agency’ – an agency with a mission to transform the cultural sector into a more equitable, sustainable and inclusive place for underrepresented talent to shine, and for unheard stories to be told. 

    Launched in 2006, Words of Colour curates, produces and collaborates on projects straddling the creative and cultural industries, academia, digital entrepreneurship and mental health. Their awards include the  NESTA/Observer ‘New Radicals’ Award 2018 for the Synergi Collaborative Centre and the Legacy Awards 2022 (Health and Wellbeing Category) as part of Synergi-Leeds.

  • Core Team

    Heather Marks
    Heather Marks
    Festival Curator

    Heather Marks is a creative producer, editor, researcher and writer. She has worked in a diverse array of roles spanning media, publishing, education, research, and the arts. She has produced a number of arts and cultural programmes, and has worked with universities, literature organisations, and publishers to deliver national and international projects. Heather is the producer and curator of Conversations with Baldwin.

    Discover more about Heather
    Fatema Zehra
    Fatema Zehra

    Fatema has over 10 years’ experience of branding and communications in the creative sector. She currently works with a host of organisations, including arts, mental health and education organisations, consulting them on their branding and marketing strategies, producing digital content around their projects and leading on project management for several creative education projects.

    Discover more about Fatema
    Tamera Heron
    Tamera Heron

    Tamera is a writer, content creator and trainee creative producer, whose work is primarily focused on art, fashion and theatre within London, Bristol and the South West. Working primarily within the digital world, she is interested in t1he way we share and own digital creativity both individually and collectively.

    Discover more about Tamera

    Advisory Group

    Liz Chege
    Liz Chege

    Liz Chege trained as an architect and town planner. In 2022, she was invited to be a Salzburg Global Seminar Fellow, Acumen Fellow and BAFTA member. She is a Berlinale Talent alumni and founding member of Come the Revolution, a collective of creatives committed to exploring Black life and cultural expression through cinema. She was programme producer of British Council’s “No Direct Flight” at the British Film Institute, a cross-media exploration of global African diaspora moving-image makers. She has served on international film festival juries and continues to work as a curator and critic. Most recently, she was appointed director of Africa in Motion Film Festival (Scotland).

    Lil Green
    Lil Green

    Lil Green is a publisher, printmaking artist, and the founder of independent micro press and publishing studio No Bindings. They are also the National Lifelong Learning Development Worker at Glasgow Women’s Library where they run the Readers of Colour and Responders of Colour groups.

    Dr Vivian Latinwo-Olajide
    Dr Vivian Latinwo-Olajide

    Dr Vivian Latinwo-Olajide is an unwavering transdisciplinary scholar deeply committed to exploring human experiences. Her research interests encompass various disciplines. What unites and steers her pursuits is the pivotal role of ‘feeling’ as a unifying source.

    She uses a versatile toolkit, combining audio-visual techniques and archival materials, to delve into our collective existence. Her focus is on meticulously examining the ordinary aspects of our shared lives, unveiling often-overlooked subtleties in experiences shaped by emotions. Latinwo-Olajide’s ultimate commitment is to illuminate hidden dynamics and foster a profound understanding of our interconnected relationships. Essentially, her work addresses these three fundamental questions:

    1. What does it mean to be together?
    2. What does togetherness feel like?
    3. How do we stay together well?
    Dr Myles-Jay Linton
    Dr Myles-Jay Linton

    Dr Myles-Jay Linton is a Bristol-based psychologist, academic and multi-disciplinary artist. He is interested in care and rest as essential features within community-building among queer people of colour.