The 2022 International Conference on James Baldwin

It was a long time coming, but the 2022 International Conference on James Baldwin took place in Nice and Saint-Paul de Vence June 16th through 18th. I was excited to be able to participate as a panelist in the session titled "James Baldwin and the Internal Closet" with co-panelist Diane Harriford of Vassar College. Nearly 200 attendees came from all over the globe to sit in on panels, and to view items that had belonged to Baldwin that were on display. As Saint-Paul de Vence was Baldwin's adopted home, being in the medieval village took on an air of pilgrimage as the conference director Shannon Cain took us on a walking tour of the area where Baldwin lived for 17 years, to the spot where his house stood. Shannon lead a one-woman campaign to keep Baldwin's house from being demolished when investors wanted to build on the property. Unfortunately, she lost that battle, but her efforts to keep Baldwin's legacy alive, in spite of objections from Baldwin's family, continue to this day.

One of Baldwin's sisters had decided that his house was somehow cursed since he developed esophageal cancer while living there, and eventually succumbed to his illness. His brother David, who also lived in the village, developed and eventually died from the same illness. So instead of blaming their deaths on the cancer, their sister decided to blame the village, the house, and the lifestyle which included much cognac drinking and cigarette smoking. (Keep in mind that Baldwin's stepfather was a religious fanatic who severely  traumatized his children.) I learned while at the conference that James never actually owned the house where he had lived, and that he was late on the mortgage payments when he died. So when the owner of the house passed, there was no direct connection to be made with Baldwin's estate.

Baldwin's 17th century house

In our interview, Shannon Cain revealed to me that there was no statue or plaque to be found in the village of Saint-Paul de Vence that made any mention of Baldwin. She is on a campaign to correct this. But she has maintained relationships with the descendants of the owner of the house, who made it possible for Baldwin's typewriter and dictionary to be on display.

Baldwin's typewriter

Be on the lookout for a new episode of The Noshing with Nina Show in which we go into detail on the International Conference on James Baldwin, and I share my honest impressions of the events and some of the people I was privileged to meet.

Shannon Cain and Nina Kennedy

Conference attendees


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