Little Man, Little Man is back again

Event Recap of James Baldwin’s Story of Childhood: A Symposium, 9/11/18

What happens when an undergraduate re-discovers a copy of an out-of-print children’s book written by one of America’s most seminal authors in an archive? After many years of work, we gathered on September 11 to answer that question and celebrate the new edition of James Baldwin’s Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood (Duke University Press). The book was found by one of it’s now Co-Editors, Nicholas Boggs (NYU) while he was student at Yale University and has since been reprinted with the same breathtaking illustrations by Yoran Cazac.

Tejan Karefa-Smart (Photographer and Digital Media Artist) recalled how one day he jokingly asked his Uncle Jimmy  “When are you going to write a book about me?” Little Man, Little Man was Baldwin’s response. Tejan graces the pages as TJ, his sister Aisha as Blinky. Tejan remembers a childhood studded with “social jam sessions” in his childhood home, a four-story converted brownstone which was a meeting place and makeshift home for artists, sculptors, musicians, activists, and other friends of Baldwin’s. This home on the Upper West Side served as inspiration for the Harlem home of TJ and Blinky in Little Man, Little Man.

Steven Fullwood (Independent Archivist and Curator) argued that the book acts as a portable archive of experiences of being a black child in a certain time and place. Furthermore, as Dagmawi Woubshet (University of Pennsylvania) asserted, Little Man Little Man centers the interior lives of children of color and rejects the dominant narratives of white childhood and white innocence. The book is written from the perspective of a black child who speaks in the Black vernacular. The characters see and describe a multitude of shades of black skin, each time more richly than the last. Aisha Karefa-Smart (Author and Educator) said Baldwin’s lush and musical descriptions of blackness was “an act of resistance” against negative representations of blackness.