The Symposium: Why Baldwin Matters: April 17, 2024


"LOOKING FOR JIMMY" with David Leeming  

A lecture & conversation: 1:30-2:45 pm, Center for the Arts, GMU, Fairfax, VA

Prof. Keith Clark will host David Leeming. David Leeming met James Baldwin in Istanbul in 1961. In 1994, Knopf published Leemings “James Baldwin: A Biography.” Leeming will give a 30-45 minute presentation followed by a conversation with Keith Clark. 


Panel Discussion: 3:00pm-4:30 pm, Center for the Arts, GMU, Fairfax, VA

Why Baldwin Matters - Friendship, Scholarship and Imagination - a panel led by Keith Clark - featuring Nicholas Delbanco, Deborah Tulani Salahu-Din, and Rae Mitchell.

Reception to follow in the same space.


About the participants:

David Leeming

David Leeming is an emeritus Professor of English at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. He is a graduate of Princeton University and of New York University, where he earned his doctorate in Comparative Literature. Leeming worked as an assistant to James Baldwin in the sixties and remained a close friend in the years that followed. In 1994 Knopf published Leeming’s biography of Baldwin, which Baldwin had authorized. Leeming also wrote a biography of Baldwin’s close friend, the painter Beauford Delaney (Oxford 1998).

Keith Clark

Keith Clark is Distinguished University Professor of English and African and African American Studies. He earned a B.A. from the College of William and Mary (1985) and a Ph.D. in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1993). He is the author of Black Manhood in James Baldwin, Ernest J. Gaines and August Wilson(Illinois UP, 2002), The Radical Fiction of Ann Petry (Louisiana State UP, 2013; winner of the College Language Association Creative Scholarship Award), and editor of Contemporary Black Men's Fiction and Drama (Illinois, 2001). His latest book, Navigating the Fiction of Ernest J. Gaines: A Roadmap for Readers, was published in Spring 2020 by Louisiana State.  His critical and pedagogical essays and book reviews have appeared in Callaloo, African American Review, The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, Resources for American Literary Study, American Writers V, Modern Drama, and GLQ.  His teaching interests include Black Literary masculinity studies, the Black bildungsroman, and African American LGBT studies. In addition to his academic interests, he is involved in several community service projects related to mentoring, tutoring, and hospice. More here: 


Deborah Tulani Salahu-Din

Deborah Tulani Salahu-Din is an educator and researcher in African American history and culture. Underlying her work in education and public history is the belief that cross-cultural education is a prerequisite to mutual understanding, respect, and tolerance among individuals and groups. Within a national and international context, crossing cultural bridges can help resolve conflict and avert clashes of culture on both a personal and organizational level. Her work in academia and the museum field has been integral to exhibitions designed to help bridge cultural gaps and has introduced her to the works of distinguished historical and literary figures, such as writer and activist James Baldwin, whose lives exemplify cultural appreciation. 

Ms. Salahu-Din’s initial interest in James Baldwin began during her ten-year tenure at Morgan State University (1997 – 2007), where she taught basic and advanced composition, research methods, and African American literature, introducing students to works by Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Chinua Achebe, and a host of other 20thcentury writers and intellectuals. 

Her interest in Baldwin continued as a museum specialist in language and literature at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), where she has worked since 2010. Ms. Salahu-Din became part of a creative curatorial team that developed the multi-media exhibit on Baldwin located in the museum’s Making a Way gallery. Baldwin objects and photographs that she acquired from the Baldwin family are fundamental to this exhibit. Baldwin materials are also highlighted in Chez Baldwin, a NMAAHC digital exhibition she curated to examine Baldwin’s life through the lens of his house in the South of France. 

To share her role in developing the Baldwin exhibit, Ms. Salahu-Din joined a cadre of scholars in 2016 at the International James Baldwin Conference in Paris, France, where she presented a paper titled “The Self-Examined Life: Teaching James Baldwin Through Museum Exhibitions”. She illustrated how the objects, photographs, and film clips in the Baldwin exhibit are organized around three broad themes—human identity, creativity, and freedom—that frame Baldwin’s life as a literary artist and civil rights activist.


Nicholas Delbanco 

Nicholas Delbanco is the author of more than thirty previous works of fiction and non-fiction; his most recent novel is "It Is Enough," his most recent work of non-fiction, "Why Writing Matters." His "Still Life at Eighty," a memoir, and "Reprise: the Stories of Nicholas Delbanco" will also be published this year.  At the University of Michigan—from which he retired as the Robert Frost Distinguished University Professor in English—he was the Director of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program and, for a quarter of a century, the Hopwood Awards. Founding Director of the Bennington Summer Writing Workshops, he created the low-residency MFA program there.  Among his own awards are the J.S. Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship and, twice, the National Endowment for the Arts Grant in Prose Fiction.  He has served as Chair of the Fiction Panel for the National Book Awards, and as a judge for the Pulitzer Prize.  With his wife, Elena, he divides his time between Manhattan and Cape Cod.


Rae Mitchell

Rae Mitchell is an avid reader and writer. Rae is a sophomore at George Mason, majoring in English, with a concentration in Creative Writing. They enjoy fiction novels, mostly in Romance and Thriller genres. They usually write in realistic, creative fiction, although creative non-fiction and [auto]biographical fiction has become more integrated in their works. They love learning about new perspectives, hearing opinions, and reading work from writers in all capacities whether they be a world-renowned author such as James Baldwin, or a 15-year-old with a dream, behind a Tumblr username.

More participant bios coming soon!