The Alan Cheuse International Writers Center Brings Baldwin Biographer David Leeming to Campus for Why Baldwin Matters Symposium

by Esther Goldberg

The Alan Cheuse International Writers Center Brings Baldwin Biographer David Leeming to Campus for Why Baldwin Matters Symposium

On April 17th, the Alan Cheuse International Writers Center will continue its centennial celebration of famed novelist, essayist, and orator James Baldwin with The Symposium: Why Baldwin Matters. The day-long event will feature lecture and conversation "Looking for Jimmy" with David Leeming, Baldwin’s official biographer and close friend, and panel discussion "Why Baldwin Matters- Friendship, Scholarship and Imagination" followed by a reception. Prof. Keith Clark, author of Black Manhood in James Baldwin, Ernest J. Gaines and August Wilson and distinguished professor of English and African and African American Studies, will host both events. This symposium will bring together Baldwin scholars, Mason students, and writers who knew Baldwin personally.

David Leeming, author of James Baldwin: A Biography—the Baldwin100 Reads selection of April and May 2024—worked as an assistant to James Baldwin in the sixties, sorting and filing papers, attending to correspondence, and doing speech research. In 1965, Leeming accompanied Baldwin to Istanbul, where they had first met while Leeming taught at Robert College, and lived there for a year with Baldwin’s younger brother David. During that time, Baldwin completed Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, a novel which he dedicated to Leeming and to his brother David. The two remained close friends in the years that followed and exchanged frequent visits across their many varying abodes. Leeming spent the last days of Baldwin’s life in St. Paul de Vence, where he helped David care for James Baldwin following a cancer diagnosis that would take his life at age 63 in 1987. Leeming spent the next several years drafting Baldwin’s biography, which was published in 1994 with Baldwin’s authorization. “This is not the first biography of Baldwin, but it is the most touching and seems the most trustworthy,” stated Margo Jefferson, famed author of Negroland, for The New York Times. “[Baldwin] wrote in The Devil Finds Work, ‘Well, if I was 'strange' -- and I knew that I must be, otherwise people would not have treated me so strangely, and I would not have been so miserable -- perhaps I could find a way to use my strangeness.’ David Leeming’s biography, loving but honest, shows us, step by step, how Baldwin found that way.”

David Leeming, author of James Baldwin: A Biography

The Symposium will take place in the Center for the Arts building on George Mason University’s campus. More information about the event can be found here. The Baldwin100 is a collaborative arts, scholarship and cultural project encompassing a year-long series of initiatives and public events, including panel discussions, book clubs, lectures, and film screenings, that collaborate with the Virginia-Washington-Maryland community to engage with and celebrate James Baldwin’s work. By celebrating Why Baldwin Matters, the Alan Cheuse International Writers Center seeks to highlight a global Baldwin, whose impact on American intellectual and cultural life holds promise for a just world. 

The Baldwin100 is a community partnership with Busboys and Poets, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, the City of Fairfax, Fairfax County Public Library, Arlington Public Library, Maryland Humanities, and the Library of Congress Center for the Book. Within Mason, partners include Mason Exhibitions, University Libraries, the School of Theater, the School of Art, the Department of English, and the African and African American Studies Program.  

Founded in memory of Mason professor and writer Alan Cheuse and part of Mason’s Watershed Lit, the Cheuse Center is a global community of writers, translators, and readers. Since its founding in 2016, the center has featured more than 180 international writers and has sent 23 Mason graduate students abroad to research their writing projects.

For updates on additional programming subscribe to the center’s newsletter at cheusecenter.gmu.edu/subscribe or visit the website.