James Baldwin and the Queer Imagination

Matt Brim
Stepping back to examine the relationship between James Baldwin and queer theory, Brim unveils new critical insights that their complicated pairing provides


The central figure in black gay literary history, James Baldwin has become a familiar touchstone for queer scholarship in the academy. Matt Brim’s James Baldwin and the Queer Imagination draws on the contributions of queer theory and black queer studies to critically engage with and complicate the project of queering Baldwin and his work. Brim argues that Baldwin animates and, in contrast, disrupts both the black gay literary tradition and the queer theoretical enterprise that have claimed him. More paradoxically, even as Baldwin’s fiction brilliantly succeeds in imagining queer intersections of race and sexuality, it simultaneously exhibits striking queer failures, whether exploiting gay love or erasing black lesbian desire. Brim thus argues that Baldwin’s work is deeply marked by ruptures of the “unqueer” into transcendent queer thought—and that readers must sustain rather than override this paradoxical dynamic within acts of queer imagination.

“In this sophisticated, courageous, and beautifully written book, Matt Brim pushes our understanding of James Baldwin and his oeuvre in exciting new directions.  Through careful readings of many of the great author’s most significant texts, Brim places Baldwin at the center of this generation’s most advanced critical traditions, especially Queer of Color Critique. Baldwin Studies will never be the same again.”
—Robert F. Reid-Pharr, Author of Once You Go Black: Choice, Desire, and the Black American Intellectual

"Brim's provocative, well-written James Baldwin and the Queer Imagination unsettles Baldwin's place in both literary history and queer studies in the most, well, unsettling ways. With his ambitious, vigorous argument and insight, Brim refreshes our own sense of Baldwin's immense, challenging complexity."
—Michele Elam, Stanford University

“Baldwin is a significant mid-twentieth century author who occupies a unique place in both of the literary traditions that this book examines. Brim has done a fine job at examining the queerness of Baldwin and Baldwin studies. This is a book that should be on the shelf of every Baldwin scholar, whatever her or his approach or primary interest.”
—Donald E. Hall, Lehigh University

“Refusing to turn his critical gaze away from the normative omissions in Baldwin’s fiction, Matt Brim in this absorbing, thought-provoking, and original book reanimates Baldwin’s intense importance for queer theory, which paradoxically his emergence as queer theory’s literary precursor has put at risk. In the process Brim reveals the fierceness not only of Baldwin’s queer imagination but his own as well.”
—Robert J. Corber, Trinity College

Cover photograph: Black and White Photograph of James Baldwin, Seated with hands crossed, wearing dark corduroy jacket, scarf, and bracelet. Photograph by Phil Samuell. Used with permission.

Matt Brim is Associate Professor of Queer Studies in the English department at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.

Praise / Awards

  • "In addition to being a lovely prose stylist, Brim is a dexterous and efficient guide through a variety of critical contexts and debates, making his book accessible to Baldwin fans only passingly familiar with queer theory, as well as to queer academics and students new to Baldwin’s work."
    ---Lambda Literary Review
  • "Theorists have debated for decades about issues such as sexual identity and orientation, desire, and what is gay, queer, or trans. Brim adds a brilliant, provocative perspective to these conversations. He shows that gay and queer are far more complicated than most people imagine... Highly recommended."
  • "[R]ich textures and surprising insights ... fill his book. The sensitivity and vision of Brim’s readings concoct a complex 'queer imagination' across the chapters, creating what Brim calls 'a navigation system for liberatory thought and action.'"
    ---Theory & Event
  • "[Brim's work] demonstrates Baldwin’s enduring relevance, both within the academy and beyond."
    --Rona Cran, Times Literary Supplement

Look Inside

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 228pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2014
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07234-7

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  • $79.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2014
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05234-9

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  • $25.95 U.S.