Thinking About Home and Country with Chinua Achebe and James Baldwin

Abena Ampofoa Asare in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Chinua Achebe and James Baldwin met for the first time at the 1980 conference of the African Language Association in Gainesville, Florida. The historic encounter between two literary giants comes to us in poignant fragments. Achebe recalled the meeting in a 2001 audio tribute for PEN America’s “A Celebration of James Baldwin: A Twentieth-Century Masters Tribute,” while Baldwin included video from the event in his 1982 documentary I Heard It Through the Grapevine. In October 2020, the University of Florida’s Center for African Studies held a commemorative conference where witnesses and scholars recalled, theorized, and celebrated these men’s first moments together.

Achebe and Baldwin walked parallel roads of exile. Each spent decades living outside his country’s borders. Each would die far away from home. Each never stopped writing about his birthplace, even as he pursued life despite and across national borders. At their magnetic meeting, exile, with its wounds, was the ground upon which they recognized each other as brothers.

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