If Beale Street Could Talk

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Like the blues—sweet, sad and full of truth— this masterly work of fiction rocks us with powerful emotions. In it are anger and pain, but above all, love—affirmative love of a woman for her man, the sustaining love of a black family. Fonny, a talented young artist, finds himself unjustly arrested and locked in New York's infamous tombs. But his girlfriend, Tish, is determined to free him, and to have his baby... a starkly realisitic tale... and a powerful endictment of American concepts of justice and punishment ...
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If Beale Street Could Talk

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Overview

Like the blues—sweet, sad and full of truth— this masterly work of fiction rocks us with powerful emotions. In it are anger and pain, but above all, love—affirmative love of a woman for her man, the sustaining love of a black family. Fonny, a talented young artist, finds himself unjustly arrested and locked in New York's infamous tombs. But his girlfriend, Tish, is determined to free him, and to have his baby... a starkly realisitic tale... and a powerful endictment of American concepts of justice and punishment in our time.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Baldwin's 1974 novel depicts the troubled romance between young lovers Tish and Fonny, who become engaged and plan to marry. When Fonny is arrested and imprisoned, their families endeavor to clear his name and win his release. You can never go wrong with Baldwin. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440340607
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/1/1985
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 213
  • Product dimensions: 4.12 (w) x 6.74 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

James Baldwin
James Baldwin was born in 1924 and educated in New York. He is the author of more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, including Go Tell It on the Mountain; Notes of a Native Son; Giovanni’s Room; Nobody Knows My Name; Another Country; The Fire Next Time; Nothing Personal; Blues for Mister Charlie; Going to Meet the Man; The Amen Corner; Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone; One Day When I Was Lost; If Beale Street Could Talk; The Devil Finds Work; Little Man, Little Man; Just Above My Head; The Evidence of Things Not Seen; Jimmy’s Blues; and The Price of the Ticket. Among the awards he has received are a Eugene F. Saxon Memorial Trust Award, a Rosenwald Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Partisan Review Fellowship, and a Ford Foundation grant. He was made a Commander of the Legion of Honor in 1986. He died in 1987.

Biography

James Baldwin was born on August 2, 1924, and educated in New York. His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, appeared in 1953 to excellent reviews and immediately was recognized as establishing a profound and permanent new voice in American letters. "Mountain is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else," he remarked. Baldwin's play The Amen Corner was first performed at Howard University in 1955 (it was staged commercially in the 1960s), and his acclaimed collection of essays Notes of a Native Son, was published the same year. A second collection of essays, Nobody Knows My Name, was published in 1961 between his novels Giovanni's Room (1956) and Another Country (1961).

The appearance of The Fire Next Time in 1963, just as the civil rights movement was exploding across the American South, galvanized the nation and continues to reverberate as perhaps the most prophetic and defining statement ever written of the continuing costs of Americans' refusal to face their own history. It became a national bestseller, and Baldwin was featured on the cover of Time magazine. Critic Irving Howe said that The Fire Next Time achieved "heights of passionate exhortation unmatched in modern American writing." In 1964 Blues for Mister Charlie, his play based on the murder of a young black man in Mississippi, was produced by the Actors Studio in New York. That same year, Baldwin was made a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and collaborated with the photographer Richard Avedon on Nothing Personal, a series of portraits of America intended as a eulogy for the slain Medger Evers. A collection of short stories, Going to Meet the Man, was published in 1965, and in 1968, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, his last novel of the 1960s appeared.

In the 1970s he wrote two more collections of essays and cultural criticism: No Name in the Street (1972) and The Devil Finds Work (1976). He produced two novels: the bestselling If Beale Street Could Talk (1974) and Just Above My Head (1979) and also a children's book Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood (1976). He collaborated with Margaret Mead on A Rap on Race (1971) and with the poet-activist Nikki Giovanni on A Dialogue (1973). He also adapted Alex Haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X into One Day When I Was Lost.

In the remaining years of his life, Baldwin produced a volume of poetry, Jimmy's Blues (1983), and a final collection of essays, The Price of the Ticket. Baldwin's last work, The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985), was prompted by a series of child murders in Atlanta. Baldwin was made a Commander of the French Legion of Honor in June 1986. Among the other awards he received are a Eugene F. Saxon Memorial Trust Award, a Rosenwald fellowship, a Guggenheim fellowship, a Partisan Review fellowship, and a Ford Foundation grant.

James Baldwin died at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence in France on December 1, 1987.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

Read More Show Less
    1. Also Known As:
      James Arthur Baldwin (full name)
      James Baldwin
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 2, 1924
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      December 1, 1987
    2. Place of Death:
      St. Paul de Vence, France

Read an Excerpt

Troubled About My Soul

I look at myself in the mirror. I know that I was christened Clementine, and so it would make sense if people called me Clem, or even, come to think of it, Clementine, since that's my name: but they don't. People call me Tish. I guess that makes sense, too. I'm tired, and I'm beginning to think that maybe everything that happens makes sense. Like, if it didn't make sense, how could it happen? But that's really a terrible thought. It can only come out of trouble—trouble that doesn't make sense.

Today, I went to see Fonny. That's not his name, either, he was christened Alonzo: and it might make sense if people called him Lonnie. But, no, we've always called him Fonny. Alonzo Hunt, that's his name. I've known him all my life, and I hope I'll always know him. But I only call him Alonzo when I have to break down some real heavy shit to him.

Today, I said, "—Alonzo—?"

And he looked at me, that quickening look he has when I call him by his name.

He's in jail. So where we were, I was sitting on a bench in front of a board, and he was sitting on a bench in front of a board. And we were facing each other through a wall of glass between us. You can't hear anything through this glass, and so you both have a little telephone. You have to talk through that. I don't know why people always look down when they talk through a telephone, but they always do. You have to remember to look up at the person you're talking to.

I always remember now, because he's in jail and I love his eyes and every time I see him I'm afraid I'll never see him again. So I pick up the phone as soon as I get there and I just hold it and I keeplooking up at him.

So, when I said, "—Alonzo—?" he looked down and then he looked up and he smiled and he held the phone and he waited.

I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass.

And I didn't say it the way I meant to say it. I meant to say it in a very offhand way, so he wouldn't be too upset, so he'd understand that I was saying it without any kind of accusation in my heart.

You see: I know him. He's very proud, and he worries a lot, and, when I think about it, I know—he doesn't—that that's the biggest reason he's in jail. He worries too much already, I don't want him to worry about me. In fact, I didn't want to say what I had to say. But I knew I had to say it. He had to know.

And I thought, too, that when he got over being worried, when he was lying by himself at night, when he was all by himself, in the very deepest part of himself, maybe, when he thought about it, he'd be glad. And that might help him.

I said, "Alonzo, we're going to have a baby."

I looked at him. I know I smiled. His face looked as though it were plunging into water. I couldn't touch him. I wanted so to touch him. I smiled again and my hands got wet on the phone and then for a moment I couldn't see him at all and I shook my head and my face was wet and I said, "I'm glad. I'm glad. Don't you worry. I'm glad."

But he was far away from me now, all by himself. I waited for him to come back. I could see it flash across his face: my baby? I knew that he would think that. I don't mean that he doubted me: but a man thinks that. And for those few seconds while he was out there by himself, away from me, the baby was the only real thing in the world, more real than the prison, more real than me.

I should have said already: we're not married. That means more to him than it does to me, but I understand how he feels. We were going to get married, but then he went to jail.

Fonny is twenty-two. I am nineteen.

He asked the ridiculous question: "Are you sure?"

"No. I ain't sure. I'm just trying to mess with your mind."

Then he grinned. He grinned because, then, he knew.

"What we going to do?" he asked me—just like a little boy.

"Well, we ain't going to drown it. So, I guess we'll have to raise it."

Fonny threw back his head, and laughed, he laughed till tears come down his face. So, then, I felt that the first part, that I'd been so frightened of, would be all right.

"Did you tell Frank?" he asked me.

Frank is his father.

I said, "Not yet."

"You tell your folks?"

"Not yet. But don't worry about them. I just wanted to tell you first."

"Well," he said, "I guess that makes sense. A baby."

He looked at me, then he looked down. "What you going to do, for real?"

"I'm going to do just like I been doing. I'll work up to just about the last month. And then, Mama and Sis will take care for me, you ain't got to worry. And anyway we have you out of here before then."

"You sure about that?" With his little smile.

"Of course I'm sure about that. I'm always sure about that."

I knew what he was thinking, but I can't let myself think about it—not now, watching him. I must be sure.

The man came up behind Fonny, and it was time to go. Fonny smiled and raised his fist, like always, and I raised mine and he stood up. I'm always kind of surprised when I see him in here, at how tall he is. Of course, he's lost weight and that may make him seem taller.

He turned around and went through the door and the door closed behind him.

I felt dizzy. I hadn't eaten much all day, and now it was getting late.

I walked out, to cross these big, wide corridors I've come to hate, corridors wider than all the Sahara desert. The Sahara is never empty; these corridors are never empty. If you cross the Sahara, and you fall, by and by vultures circle around you, smelling, sensing, your death. They circle lower and lower: they wait. They know. They know exactly when the flesh is ready, when the spirit cannot fight back. The poor are always crossing the Sahara. And the lawyers and bondsmen and all that crowd circle around the poor, exactly like vultures. Of course, they're not any richer than the poor, really, that's why they've turned into vultures, scavengers, indecent garbage men, and I'm talking about the black cats, too, who, in so many ways, are worse. I think that, personally, I would be ashamed. But I've had to think about it and now I think that maybe not. I don't know what I wouldn't do to get Fonny out of jail. I've never come across any shame down here, except shame like mine, except the shame of the hardworking black ladies, who call me Daughter, and the shame of proud Puerto Ricans, who don't understand what's happened—no one who speaks to them speaks Spanish, for example—and who are ashamed that they have loved ones in jail. But they are wrong to be ashamed. The people responsible for these jails should be ashamed.

And I'm not ashamed of Fonny. If anything, I'm proud. He's a man. You can tell by the way he's taken all this shit that he's a man. Sometimes, I admit, I'm scared—because nobody can take the shit they throw on us forever. But, then, you just have to somehow fix your mind to get from one day to the next. If you think too far ahead, if you even try to think too far ahead, you'll never make it.

Sometimes I take the subway home, sometimes I take the bus. Today, I took the bus because it takes a little longer and I had a lot on my mind.


From the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Unforgettable

    Mr. Baldwin creates in "If Beale Street Could Talk" a harrowing account of a pregnant teenager trying to get her wrongly imprisoned boyfriend out of jail. This book is at times tender (when you get to see the two main characters, Tish and Fonny, interact), it's at times funny, and in other places it can be daunting due to the unchanging lens Mr. Baldwin chooses to use to tell the reader of this terrible time.

    I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to read a high quality piece of fiction written in a first person account.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2009

    Different

    I chose this book to read for summer reading. It was different from anything I've read before. I thought that this book was bad, but after thinking about it, it isn't. It takes you into the hard life of Tish and makes you realize the difficulties the characters had. It's slow in some places, but overall a pretty good book. I would recomend it to others.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2008

    beautiful

    The only other book I'd read by James Balwin was Go Tell it on the Mountain. But it was an assigned reading in middle school, and I couldn't relate nor understand it. But when I read If Beale Street Could Talk, I cannot tell you how much i fell in love with it. It is simply hardbreakingly beautiful. The story is of a young black couple, Tish and Fonny, living in early 1970s Harlem. Told through the eyes of Tish, you see the harshness of the times they live in: the racism, the brutality of prison, the pathetic ways of which our people have been treated. It is heartbreaking because of this, but it is beautiful because it is essentially a love story. There is love all through the pages of this book. Beneath the tough exteriors and troubles of the characters, there is a love so raw and real, it cannot be beaten down by anything. Anything. I love this novel. I love Baldwin's use of "Black English", anything else just wouldn't have been authentic, and the text is lyrical, almost poetry. His style is truth writen on paper, his work is real. You cannot fault that. I was not able to appreciate his work before but I can tell you that this is one of the most moving pieces of literature that I've read in my eighteen years of living. So if you're a bookworm like myself, I deem it HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! By the way, I plan on rereading Go Tell It on the Mountain!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2008

    pretty good

    A good book to read for recommendation.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2007

    A reviewer

    I resisted reading another problem in the family, however, I immediately related to the highs and lows spirit of the men and womaen of this family issues and values. This book has reminded me of what value and spirit is missing in this so called 'PROGRESSIVE' society, the tenacious spirit that is missing in each of us.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2003

    outstanding and the best

    I thought the book was exellent and the characters were like so real. I write on my spare time.It's my #1 hobby and I never had a favorite author who actually inspired me to actually write for a living,but James Baldwin turned that around once my teacher introduced me to his books. And I thought 'HE IS SO TALENTED.' He must be a really fantastic author to write as if he were his charector.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2003

    read as you grow

    Excellent reading! Always loved Baldwin and this is one of my favorites. Read this in high school, picked it up again as an adult and passed it on.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2002

    'If Lovin' You Ain't Right, I Don't Want To Be Wrong'

    This book is raw, real, and just right. I read this book in a matter of two days, while attending college and working (guess which one slacked). A must read for everyone...Baldwin is amazing and that is why he is my favorite author of all time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2001

    Outstanding book

    I am not a big reader, but this book kept me intrigued the entire time. It was difficult to read at first, but once you get going, the style becomes a part of you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2001

    Got Those Blues

    I read the novel at work and wondered if co-workers could read the emotion in my face. Beale street is a historic place in Memphis, the birthplace of the 'blues.' The title clues us into the theme that love is enduring even when 'we got those blues.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2000

    THIS BOOK IS THE ONE YOUR LOOKING FOR!

    THIS WAS MY FIRST BOOK,I WAS 18 WHEN MY FIRST LOVE(HIGH SCHOOL SWEETHEART) GIVE ME THIS BOOK TO READ I LOVE IT ,AND NOW 20 YEARS LATER I'M BUYING IT FOR MY NIECE FOR HER 18TH BIRTHDAY.THANK YOU BN FOR HAVING IT IN STOCK. OUTSTANDING BOOK

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2000

    MUST READ FOR THOSE WITH HEARTS

    One thing totally remarkable about James Baldwin is the always underlined notion that 'love conquers all'. This book is the epitome of love against the odds. How many loves are lost in this country due to a system that does not condone its existence? A definite must read. Women will look for Fonnys of their own while men will try to emulate his spirit of passion.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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