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The UMSL Common Read selection for 2019 is If Beale Street Could Talk

The 2019-2020 Common Read is James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, first published in 1974. The goal of the Common Read program is to foster discussions on campus and in the community about what it means to live in St. Louis. In this way, we hope to implement the UMSL Strategic Plan’s goals for the Compact for Inclusive Excellence.

The funding for the programs comes from a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion grant from the University of Missouri System and the Carpenter Lecture Series, in the UMSL College of Arts and Sciences.

beale street book cover
"...vividly human...timeless"
- Joyce Carol Oates

Participate in this unique opportunity to

Spark a wide-ranging conversation about diversity and inclusion in our community and on our campus


Provide a shared intellectual experience that connects students, faculty and staff


Model for UMSL students the concept of multi-disciplinary, broad-based inquiry

Who is James Baldwin? Why is he worth reading today?


James Baldwin was a novelist, essayist, and playwright active in the decades of 1947-85 when civil rights movements changed the social experiences for most people living in the United States.  He was part of a network of Black intellectuals and artists whose works continue to shape understanding of what it means to be Black in the United States.  His work explored the intersectionality of race, sexuality, and class identities. At the height of the Black Civil Rights Movement in 1963, Time magazine featured his picture on the cover, explaining that, “there is not another writer who expresses with such poignancy and abrasiveness the dark realities of the racial ferment in North and South.  He brought the discussion of race relations to interior experience, exploring the psychological implications of racism for Blacks and whites alike.  In doing so, he expanded the collective U.S. imagination.  Several of Baldwin’s works have become classics, including Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), Giovanni’s Room (1956), and Notes of a Native Son (1955).   If Beale Street Could Talk was adapted into an Academy Award-winning movie in 2018.  Born in 1924 in New York City, he spent much of his adult life outside the U.S. and died in Paris in 1987. 
Photo Credit Allan Warren

More about James Baldwin:

Despite the importance of Baldwin’s work, his private papers have been more difficult to access.  You can read more about this in a New York Times article, “James Baldwin’s Archive Long Hidden Comes Mostly into View”.  The Library of Congress holds photos, documents, and interviews with Baldwin. 

See what the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers have developed on Baldwin.

During his lifetime, the FBI maintained a file on Baldwin, documenting his activities.

Additional biographical information and resources are available at this Library of Congress site.

Signature Lecture


Dr. Farah Griffin of Columbia University will deliver a lecture about Baldwin, the book and its meanings today. There will be a reception following the lecture.

Thursday, October 24, 2019
Lecture at 2:00 PM
Reception at 3:00 PM
J.C. Penney Auditorium

Free and open to the public

Event Page


From Penguin Random House

In this honest and stunning novel, now a major motion picture directed by Barry Jenkins, James Baldwin has given America a moving story of love in the face of injustice.

Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions–affection, despair, and hope.

In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.


Film Trailer

James Baldwin Interviews