James Baldwin’s Readers: White Innocence and the Reception of “Letter from a Region in My Mind”

African American Review, vol. 55 no. 1, 2022, p. 69-85. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/afa.2022.0004.


Abstract: In 1962, James Baldwin became the second Black contributor to The New Yorker, appearing at a crossroads in his career and the magazine’s history. This article reconstructs the editorial development and critical afterlife of “Letter from a Region in My Mind,” arguing that the essay’s reception by white readers is already present in its gestation. A conversion tale, “Letter” attempts to extricate its audience from the American tradition of willful white innocence. Baldwin’s readers, from William Shawn to the author’s recent revival, set in motion the essay’s machinery of reciprocal reflection—its chiasmus of style and substance—with imperfect but enduring results. This article was awarded “Mention of Honor” for African American Review’s Darwin T. Turner Award (“best essay overall”).

“’The Most Sympathetic Reader You Can Imagine’: William Maxwell’s New Yorker and the Mid-Century Short Story”

Post45, Special Issue on “Editing American Literature,” forthcoming 2024.

Abstract: William Maxwell is perhaps the most significant and least studied of twentieth-century American literary editors. As a case study in the uses of editorial power, he accentuates the contradictory qualities of his profession, being at once uncommonly recessive and uncommonly influential. Fiction editor at The New Yorker from 1936 to 1975, Maxwell possessed an unrivalled proximity to the emerging canon of mid-century short fiction—yet was celebrated among his authors for the lightness of his touch. Drawing on The New Yorker records, the Maxwell Papers, and interviews with still-living colleagues, this essay offers the first sustained, scholarly inquiry into Maxwell’s editorial practice. It examines, in turn, the affinity between Maxwell’s editing and his own fiction; the contrasting nature of his working relationships with three of the century’s leading short-story writers, John Updike, John Cheever,and Mavis Gallant; and finally Maxwell’s place within both his magazine and the larger ecosystem of postwar American editing. I argue that Maxwell at once enforced and expanded the company line, policing The New Yorker’s narrower notions of realism while drawing ever more wide-ranging autobiographical story sequences from a constellation of writers.

“Archives of the Air: The BBC Written Archives Centre and Voices of the Global Anglophone”

The Bloomsbury Handbook of Modernist Archives, ed. Jamie Callison, Erik Tonning, and Anna Svendsen, Bloomsbury Academic, forthcoming 2024.


Abstract: In the immediate postwar decades, twin London-based literary programmes drew short stories, poems, and plays from aspiring writers in the West Indies and West Africa, broadcasting their work back home over the airwaves of the BBC’s Overseas Service. The programmes’ institutional and editorial symmetry was summed up by the sonic echo of their titles: Caribbean Voices and West African Voices. Yet their critical afterlives have diverged dramatically. An unwavering scholarly consensus affirms the role of Caribbean Voices, and that of its producer-editor Henry Swanzy, in fostering the postwar flourishing of West Indian literature. Yet next to nothing exists on the influence of West African Voices, despite the fact that it was designed in direct imitation of the model that had worked so well for Caribbean writers and audiences. Why does one program have such a presence in Caribbean criticism and the other so little in African scholarship? This essay argues that the problem is at once illustrated, compounded, and partly answered by the state of their respective records at the BBC Written Archives Centre. While the Caribbean set of documents is well-arranged and well-used, the West African material remains largely uncatalogued and unexamined. Using the early radio stories of Wole Soyinka to measure this archival inequality, I explore the power of the BBC as both an institution and an archive for the emergent discipline of the Global Anglophone.

“Editing the Global Anglophone: Publishing History as a Framework for the Rising Discipline”

Mapping World Anglophone Studies: English in a World of Strangers, ed. Pavan Malreddy and Frank Schulze-Engler, Routledge, forthcoming 2024.


Abstract: Over the last decade, the “Global Anglophone” has taken institutional, if not intellectual, hold in English Departments and MLA job listings. It offers the questionable benefits of breadth and imprecision, the opportunities and hazards that accompany a lack of definition. It has also provoked considerable academic resistance as it appears to appropriate the territory of the postcolonial. This essay argues that transnational networks of production and reception do give a material and imaginative existence to the Global Anglophone—that the field of literary activity justifies the field of literary study and provides a conceptual framework for it.
Publishing history unites, and editorial activity reveals, the relationships between writers, readers, and institutions that bind Anglophone publics and produce literatures in English. I offer a theoretical account of the nature of editorial power and a case study in its operation across the Global Anglophone, re-interpreting V. S. Naipaul’s Miguel Street (1959), V. S. Naipaul discovers his literary voice against the oral background of Caribbean Voices, the BBC radio program which he was editing at the time. In its bifurcated form, divided between the vernacular language of its characters and the standard English of its narration, Miguel Street inscribes the dynamics at place in its composition, an oral-written mediation within the work offering a synecdoche for the Trinidad-London mediation without—the editorial environment which shapes Naipaul and which he shapes in turn. Thus this chapter develops a flexible editorial framework for the rising field, showing how the Global Anglophone can become a capacious, critical, and pluralist discipline for literatures in English.