James Baldwin′s Turkish Decade

Erotics of Exile

James Baldwin′s Turkish Decade

Book Pages: 416 Illustrations: 53 illustrations, 2 maps Published: January 2009

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

Between 1961 and 1971 James Baldwin spent extended periods of time in Turkey, where he worked on some of his most important books. In this first in-depth exploration of Baldwin’s “Turkish decade,” Magdalena J. Zaborowska reveals the significant role that Turkish locales, cultures, and friends played in Baldwin’s life and thought. Turkey was a nurturing space for the author, who by 1961 had spent nearly ten years in France and Western Europe and failed to reestablish permanent residency in the United States. Zaborowska demonstrates how Baldwin’s Turkish sojourns enabled him to re-imagine himself as a black queer writer and to revise his views of American identity and U.S. race relations as the 1960s drew to a close.

Following Baldwin’s footsteps through Istanbul, Ankara, and Bodrum, Zaborowska presents many never published photographs, new information from Turkish archives, and original interviews with Turkish artists and intellectuals who knew Baldwin and collaborated with him on a play that he directed in 1969. She analyzes the effect of his experiences on his novel Another Country (1962) and on two volumes of his essays, The Fire Next Time (1963) and No Name in the Street (1972), and she explains how Baldwin’s time in Turkey informed his ambivalent relationship to New York, his responses to the American South, and his decision to settle in southern France. James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade expands the knowledge of Baldwin’s role as a transnational African American intellectual, casts new light on his later works, and suggests ways of reassessing his earlier writing in relation to ideas of exile and migration.


“[A] fascinating glimpse into Turkish intellectual life during a period of social and political tumult. . . .” — Robert J. Corber, Callaloo

“[W]ith its wealth of personal insights, and highlighted by evocative photographs, extensive notes, and a wide ranging bibliography, Magdalena Zaborowska’s work gives us an ultimately valuable addition to our understanding of the life and work of James Baldwin.” — Reginald Harris, Lambda Book Report

“In this groundbreaking book about Baldwin’s years in Turkey, Zaborowska explores not only the influences of the Turkish culture on the writer’s major works but also his expatriate status in Turkey, France, and Western Europe and his residence status as a US citizen. . . . Though the book joins an extensive literature on Baldwin . . . Zaborowska’s focus on Turkey is original and fascinating.” — T. L. Stowell, Choice

“Magdalena Zaborowska’s new study clearly demonstrates that reconsiderations of Baldwin’s career have opened up rich new possibilities for important criticism. By focusing on Baldwin’s period of expatriation in Turkey—roughly 1961 to 1971— Zaborowska effectively recenters our notion of Baldwin and situates him in a broad transnational context. . . . Like all good juggling acts, this one is mesmerizing because Zaborowska never drops anything on the stage. Her research is thorough (as the sixty-plus pages of notes attest) and her voice is engaging and smart. . . . James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile should have a prominent place on all of our bookshelves.”
— D. Quentin Miller, Comparative Literature Studies

“This distinctive, passionate, and beautifully written book yields an expansive picture of a little-explored phase in James Baldwin's literary and personal life-his international sojourns in Turkey during the 1960s. Magdalena J. Zaborowska argues that this experience significantly influenced Baldwin's development as a black and queer writer. The book brilliantly weaves together most of the existing scholarship in feminist, African American and queer/quare studies on Baldwin with a sober and cogent style. Drawing on photographs, documents, interviews, and personal reflections as an immigrant Polish intellectual in the United States, Zaborowska uses themes of exile and the erotic to broaden our understanding of the black diaspora. Her compelling mix of autobiography, biography, and literary criticism is a veritable treasure for those who love Baldwin's works and for those who should love them.” — from the citation by the William S. Scarborough Committee

“Zaborowska seeks to claim that the rich transnational contexts of Baldwin's work will recast the critical perceptions not only of what he produced during his Turkish decade, but also of his later works—works many critics have dismissed as insignificant, or in some cases, the foolish ramblings of a madman. ‘As a scholar and someone whose life has been touched and changed by his works, I have been treated to a feast’ at Baldwin's welcome table, writes Zaborowska. Indeed we all have, and Zaborowska's critical work is another splendid dish on the menu.” — Carol E. Henderson, African American Review

“James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade, adds a substantial new dimension to the revival by guiding us through an enigmatic chapter of his cosmopolitan wanderings. . . . Zaborowska’s ambitious and original book brings the Turkish decade to life. Part travelogue, part ‘unapologetically autobiographical’ scholarly memoir, its aim is to use Baldwin’s Turkish years to ‘compel a new narrative space, a new telling of his life and of black experience’.” — Tom F. Wright, TLS

“[I]nformative and enlightening. . . . Zaborowska’s work will appeal to fans of Baldwin looking for an interesting take on the man’s life. . . . Her dedication and passion does shine through in the time and effort she placed in writing this book. . . .” — Derek Beres, Popmatters

“[Zaborowska] scours [Baldwin’s] works for hints of Istanbul; she visits his stomping grounds and entertainingly interviews various Turkish luminaries. . . . Her reporting reveals as much about Turkey as it does about Baldwin, as well as the connections between this fledgling nation and the growing shadow America had begun to cast across the globe.” — Suzy Hansen, The National

“Magdalena Zaborowska persuasively argues that Baldwin’s Turkish years—1961 and 1971—are key to understanding his career. . . . I found her deceptively simple argument arresting: although the broad outlines of Baldwin’s Turkish years are well known, to date, no scholar has set out to foreground place and atmosphere of composition so extensively.” — Tavia Nyong'o, American Quarterly

“Of central importance is how Baldwin's so-called Turkish exile helped distance him from, while also focusing, his massive contradictions within a society of contradictions. . . . . Zaborowska . . . displays the fascinating, delicious thrill she received from the people she interviewed.” — Publishers Weekly

“Zaborowska is a charming companion as she follows Baldwin’s steps through Turkey, brimming with enthusiasm at the sights and at the warmth of her reception by his friends. . . . [S[he makes us feel how necessary such a refuge was as the sixties wore on.” — Claudia Roth Pierpont, The New Yorker

“Zaborowska takes great delight in detailing her subject's adventures in Turkey, vicariously bathing in the limelight of a distinguished, outspoken writer who pushed boundaries well before his time, and graced the homosexual world with writing that transcended both color and gender lines.” — Jim Piechota, Bay Area Reporter

“Zaborowska’s book will make you want to reread Another Country and his later works with a new context of understanding. The book illuminates, with a scholar’s focus and a writer’s nuance, how Baldwin’s exile in Istanbul was not simply a theme or escape from the racism and homophobia of the U.S., but also a deeply felt condition crucial to his intellectual and creative imagination. Indeed, the book reminds us that some of the most poignant and insightful writings about sexuality and race in the canon of American literature were composed well beyond our shores.” — James Polchin, Gay & Lesbian Review

“Zaborowska’s determined research and sharp interpretations recast Baldwin’s entire life project and show how his Turkish sojourn rendered American conceptions of sexuality, race, and citizenship more clearly. [A] beautifully imagined book. . . . Zaborowska shows the discontiguous routes of one particular writer to that destination and beyond it. In doing so, she reminds us that often the destination is as displaced as the traveler.”
— Shane Vogel, American Literature


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Magdalena J. Zaborowska is Associate Professor in the Program in American Culture and the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is the author of How We Found America: Reading Gender through East-European Immigrant Narratives; the editor of Other Americans, Other Americas: The Politics and Poetics of Multiculturalism; and a co-editor of Over the Wall/After the Fall: Post-Communist Cultures Through an East-West Gaze and The Puritan Origins of American Sex: Religion, Sexuality, and National Identity in American Literature.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Preface: Sightings xiii

Acknowledgments xxv

Introduction: From Harlem to Istanbul 1

1. Between Friends: Looking for Baldwin in Constantinople 31

2. Queer Orientalisms in Another Country 91

3. Staging Masculinity in Dusenin Dostu 141

4. East to South: Homosexual Panic, the Old Country, and No Name in the Street 197

Conclusion: Welcome Tables East and West 249

Notes 265

Bibliography 331

Index 359
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Honorable Mention, 2009 Errol Hill Book Award, American Society for Theatre Research

Winner, 2008 William S. Scarborough Prize, Modern Language Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4167-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4144-4
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