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Director Raoul Peck:

James Baldwin Was

‘Speaking Directly To Me’

James Baldwin poses at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France in 1979. Ralph Gatti/AFP/Getty Images

James Baldwin poses at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France in 1979.
Ralph Gatti/AFP/Getty Images

The late James Baldwin was one of the most influential
African-American writers to emerge during the civil rights
era. During the late 1950s and 1960s, he traveled through
the South and addressed racial issues head on.

In the course of his work, Baldwin got to know the civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. He was devastated when each man was assassinated, and planned, later in life, to write a book about all three of them.

Though Baldwin died in 1987 before that book could be written, the new Oscar-nominated documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, draws on his notes for the book, as well as from other of Baldwin’s writings.


Haitian-born filmmaker Raoul Peck, who directed I Am Not Your Negro, tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that working on the film allowed him to learn more about an author who had influenced him greatly.

“James Baldwin was one of the first authors ever where I felt not only at home, but he was speaking directly to me,” Peck says. “He gave me very early on the instruments I needed to understand and to even deconstruct the world around me.”

The audio link above features a 1986 interview with Baldwin, followed by a recent conversation with Peck.


Interview Highlights

On how growing up in Haiti and the Congo, and experiencing political instability in each place, impacted him creatively

When you grow up in so many different places, you tend to take the good part of it, which is, again, this possibility to have different perspectives, and it gives a sort of lightness to the way you look at things. My whole life I tried not to have a heavy burden on me, you know, … to [not] have this sort of weight that forbids you to take risk, you know? … When you know that you can leave next year or leave in the middle of the year and be somewhere else, because you have gone through that experience, it’s very liberating. At the same time, in order to understand what’s going on in your country or in another country, the fact that you are far away helps you to see what is important and not important, because you can compare.

Raoul Peck's previous films include Sometimes in April and Lumumba. Lydie Sipa/Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Raoul Peck’s previous films include Sometimes in April and Lumumba.
Lydie Sipa/Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

On seeing governments change and fall at a young age and how it affected his view of authority 

I learned very early on what fear could be, what arbitrary could be, and injustice. If there is something that determined my motivation in the work I do [it] is the sense of injustice. This is something that I cannot accept, on every level. And the fact of abuse, abuse of authority.

I have a very vivid memory at a very young age of road blocks by the army. In fact, the night my father was arrested [in Haiti] my mother took me in the car, and it was a late night, there was a curfew, and I remember being in my pajamas in the back of the car, and my mother driving through the city trying to find where my father was, because she thought he might be in a friend’s house or in the hospital, and there was a curfew so it was very dangerous. I remember very vividly the road blocks.

And in Congo, a few years later, there were … several rebellions, and of course the army had road blocks and the U.N. had road blocks, so … my relationship to authority and to police and to army was a relationship through road blocks, because on these road blocks, it was always about how does the conversation go? You need to give the right answers to the questions, and depending on the answer you gave, you know, you could be arrested as well.

On what he learned from James Baldwin’s writing 

What I learned from Baldwin is this way of questioning something that might seem solid. Nothing is solid, and this sort of agility, of mental agility, and intellectual agility to question everything, I think Baldwin helped me to have that very early on in my life.

On why Baldwin chose to live abroad for much of his life, particularly in France

He found a sort of space where he could write. He could have peace. He described very clearly how the pressure of being a black writer in America was a pressure, a fear even, to be killed or to not be able to control your anger, because … there were so many instances in a day, every day, where you would be confronted with racism in all its different forms.

Sometimes it’s a very subtle racism, but Baldwin with his intelligence and his very sensible and sensitive emotion, he would react to it. He would get himself in trouble. So being abroad was not only saving him from himself, but also he learned to know other people, to have different perspective. This is also very valuable for a writer, because when you are far away from your own country, this is the best viewpoint to really understand what is essential, what is less essential, what is superficial, and what is fundamental.

On Baldwin coming back from France to the U.S. 

The notion that he likes to use all the time [is] about being a witness. You know, in order to be a witness, you have to be there. You have to be also part actor. You have to be in the middle of the battle in order to be able to write about that battle.

On the power of film and his responsibility as a filmmaker 

I don’t think film can change the world or film can change the fate of a country — people change the fate of a country. But at the same time, I know … that film can change a person, because it [catches] you at the right moment and helps you do the necessary change. …

As a black person and as a third-world person … I don’t have my own narrative in this medium, which is cinema. Since the discovery of cinema others have been the one telling the story. … A Native American could redo all the John Wayne westerns from a different perspective. This is what we don’t have, we don’t have our own visual history. So being a filmmaker for me was also trying to save part of our memory, part of our images, part of our stories. I saw it as one of the responsibilities to have to make sure that we are not totally dead in the picture.








Call for Papers:
Journal of West African History

Founding Editor-in-chief: Nwando Achebe

Associate Editors: Hilary Jones and John Thabiti Willis

Book Review Editor: Harry Odamtten

The Journal of West African History (JWAH) is a new interdisciplinary peer-reviewed research journal that publishes the highest quality articles on West African history. Located at the cutting edge of new scholarship on the social, cultural, economic, and political history of West Africa, JWAH fills a representational gap by providing a forum for serious scholarship and debate on women and gender, sexuality, slavery, oral history, popular and public culture, and religion. The editorial board encourages authors to explore a wide range of topical, theoretical, methodological, and empirical perspectives in new and exciting ways. The journal is committed to rigorous thinking and analysis; is international in scope; and offers a critical intervention about knowledge production. Scholarly reviews of current books in the field appear in every issue. And the publication is in both English and French; an abstract in both languages will be provided. Michigan State University Press publishes JWAH.

The editorial board invites scholars to submit original article-length manuscripts (not exceeding 10,000 words including endnotes, 35 pages in length) accompanied by an abstract that summarizes the argument and significance of the work (not exceeding 150 words). Please see submission guidelines for detailed expectations. Review essays (not exceeding 1,000 words) should engage the interpretation, meaning, or importance of an author’s argument for a wider scholarly audience. See what we have available for review on our Books for Review page. Please contact our book review editor at for more information.

JWAH has а rolling submission policy.  Manuscripts submitted to the Journal of West African Historyshould be submitted online at
In order to submit an article, you will have to create an account. The site will guide you through this process.










AAC Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is proud to announce their 2017 AAC Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship Program to the U.S undergraduates or college graduates. AAC established these scholarship awards to provide financial assistance to college and graduatestudents pursuing careers in behavioral health and addiction-related studies.  They believe in helping students complete their education because they are the frontline workers who help others.  The first place winner will receive $5000 and second and third place winner will get $2500.

American Addiction Centers is a leading provider of inpatient substance abuse treatment services. We treat adults struggling with drug addiction, alcohol addiction, and co-occurring mental/behavioral health issues.


  • High School graduate as of summer 2017.
  • Open to full or part-time college undergraduate or graduate students.
  • Enrolled or entering an academic program in nursing, counseling, psychology, social work, marriage/family therapy, or another curriculum that focuses on treating mental health and substance use disorders.

How to Apply:

  • AAC’s Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship will begin accepting applications beginning January 1st, 2017.
  • All applicants must submit 500 words or max. In your chosen area of Behavioral Science study, what do you see as current challenges for getting individuals into addiction treatment? What are your suggestions for how to fix this problem?

Financial Aid and Award Money:

The prizes are as follow:

  • First Place: $5,000
  • Second Place:$2,500
  • Third Place: $2,500

Application Deadline: 

The last date for submitting application form is May 31, 2017.

Link for More Information:

Contact Information: 

If you have any question, call at (888) 986-1312









room magazine

Creative Non-Fiction Contest

Our 2017 Creative Non-Fiction Contest is now open! Submit your non-fiction work to us before March 8, 2017. 

Judge: Carmen Aguirre

FIRST PRIZE: $500 + publication in Room
SECOND PRIZE: $250 + publication in Room
HONOURABLE MENTION: $50 publication on Room‘s website

Carmen Aguirre’s Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter won CBC Canada Reads 2012 and is a #1 national bestseller. Mexican Hooker #1 and My Other Roles Since the Revolution, a Globe and Mailbestseller, was published in April 2016.

Read our interview with Carmen.

Entry fee includes a one-year subscription to Room, beginning with issue 40.1 (March 2017).











Fireman’s Ball


glistening in the heated night glow

yr arced torso radiates


the sculpted bronze intensity

of an earth toned ewe passion mask


yr hypnotic breasts

are brown mesmerizing eyes, yr nipples


dilated pupils aroused into

elongated surprise


yr navel a heavy




with every sharp breath


& listen

that dark forest, yr sideways mouth


silently chants the sacred syllables

of my secret name


as i plunge into the discovery

of its musky depths


unable to stand

i joyously recline


jumping in the happy immolation

of yr explosive flame


—kalamu ya salaam 



Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Roland HH Biswurm – drums


Recorded: May 31, 1998 – Munich, Germany








February 9, 2017

February 9, 2017




How We Got Here:

Essential Reading

to Understand the

History of Racism





Frederick Douglass, Michelle Alexander, Ta-Nehisi Coates: Photos: National Archives, Miller Center of Public Affairs, Eduardo Montes-Bradley

Frederick Douglass, Michelle Alexander, Ta-Nehisi Coates: Photos: National Archives, Miller Center of Public Affairs, Eduardo Montes-Bradley

Black History Month is always vital, but this year it’s especially important. There’s a disturbing United States trend on the rise in the United States, in which past and present oppression is being denied and occluded. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, the White House garnered great controversy when it failed to recognize the suffering of Jews in its official statement commemorating the event. And many felt so dismayed by President Trump’s February 1 Black History Month speech that various hashtags mocking the inadequacy of his “tribute” to African Americans have been making the rounds of social media.

While we can’t fix the oversights of our new administration, we can take pains to better educate ourselves. To that end, here are seven vital books specifically addressing the persecution of black people in America. Every book by the authors below should be required reading, and there exist many more reading essentials, but this constitutes a healthy start. We must study our history, warts and all, if we’re to have any chance of not repeating it.


  • The cover of the book My Bondage and My Freedom

    My Bondage and My Freedom

    Frederick Douglass

    Born into slavery, Frederick Douglass went on to become one of the most brilliant and influential authors, abolitionists, and general champions of human rights in American history. While his first and most acclaimed book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, describes his brutal life as a slave, this volume of social and political thought discusses his transition to liberty – his attempts to escape and his astute and still-powerfully relevant meditations on freedom, racism, literacy, and faith in our country.

  • The cover of the book The Souls of Black Folk

    The Souls of Black Folk

    W. E. B. Du Bois

    Du Bois’s sociological work follows the trajectory of African Americans following Emancipation and breaks down the psychology of bigotry through precise scientific explanation and groundbreaking insights. This is ground zero for any discussion of the struggle for equality and the moral and intellectual issues surrounding it.

  • The cover of the book The Fire Next Time

    The Fire Next Time

    James Baldwin

    In The Fire Next Time, arguably his most iconic book of essays, James Baldwin lays out how racism lives at the core of this country. As always, his own words say it best: “The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed the collection of myths to which white Americans cling [such as] that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes … It can almost be said, in fact, that Negros know far more about white Americans than what parents … know about their children, and that they very often regard white Americans that way.” I Am Not Your Negro, assembled by Raoul Peck from Baldwin’s essays, notes, letters, and interviews, digs deep into the same topics. (See Peck’s eponymous documentary as well.)

  • The cover of the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Movie Tie-In Edition)

    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Movie Tie-In Edition)

    Rebecca Skloot

    Focusing not only on mid-century cervical cancer patient Henrietta Lacks but on her amazingly enduring cells, this nonfiction book nails the legal, ethical, and spiritual issues surrounding the medical establishment’s historical abuse of African American bodies and minds.

  • The cover of the book Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism

    Ain’t I A Woman:
    Black Women and Feminism

    bell hooks

    Taking her title from Sojourner Truth’s famous cry, public scholar bell hooks traces the realities of African American women from the 1800s through the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements. With her characteristic combination of compassion and tough love, she establishes the “double invisibility” of being black and female throughout U.S. history and the shameful persistence of ugly stereotypes borne out of slavery.

  • The cover of the book The New Jim Crow

    The New Jim Crow

    Michelle Alexander

    Legal scholar Michelle Alexander delivers the truth: The racial caste system relegating people of color to permanent second-class citizens in America has never gone away. It’s just been refunneled through the U.S. criminal justice system via a mass incarceration of black men, especially through the alleged War on Drugs and racial profiling. This isn’t just a book about social justice. It is a call to action.

  • The cover of the book Between the World and Me

    Between the World and Me

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Written as a letter to his fifteen-year-old son, this bestseller may look slim but it packs the punch needed for this new millennium, in which some Americans claim we’re “post-race” but black people are still figuratively and literally endangered. Tracing the footsteps of his predecessors, Coates spells out the realities of police brutality, mass incarceration, and a generally hostile environment for black youths in what is allegedly the home of the free.