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Monday, 20 April 2015
Books for Glenn Ligon Encounters and Collisions
John Leighton, Visitor Services Manager

Every exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary generates a large list of reading material used by our curators and informing our public programme. A comprehensive reading list would take up more room than we have for on this blog, a glance at our study gives an impression of the breath and diversity of our teams preparation.

A prominent name for Glenn Ligon is the American author and activist James Baldwin and I would encourage anyone interested in a unique voice in American literature to try any of the many novels our shop will be stocking during Encounters and Collisions.

Baldwin defied a difficult upbringing to become an important voice and inspiration at a time when race, sexuality and class were inflammatory in America and at the same time an important presence in postwar European literature.

When I first became involved in the book industry it seemed that reading (or at least be seen with) Faulkner, Pynchon, Salinger or Roth was the way to indicate a certain hip gravitas. Towards the end of my time in that world those names had changed to Foster Wallace, Franzen, Eggers and Lethem. Baldwin never seemed to belong to this quest for the Great American Novel, like his great Influence Richard Wright he is a constant presence on the shelves without necessarily being a name to drop.

Exhibitions like this give us an opportunity to celebrate a craftsman of his language. That he was black, gay and from a poor background at a time when all three were an impediment to basic rights let alone success should be reason enough to elicit interest in his back catalogue and while he may not have written the Great American Novel, he was certainly a great American novelist.

Not linked directly to Glenn Ligon, but I believe, worth mentioning in the conversation as James Baldwin is Paul Beatty.

I’ve championed Beatty for many years now, not particularly successfully, in that time he has gone out of print in the UK, but you’ll always be able to buy him at Nottingham Contemporary. A few years ago it was difficult to find portrayals of the Black American experience that didn’t mirror the cartoon like visions of Tarantino, Peebles or Iceberg Slim. Paul Beatty writes about the same world without resorting to the seemingly inevitable cliché and trope that tends to blight some of his contemporaries. I’d particularly recommend White Boy Shuffle or Tuff; both are honest, funny and really well written. The latter I bought on the strength of its cover (you should never buy a book by its cover, but I’d always have a second look) which, as is the way of most publishing houses, has been replaced  by something more up to date, funky and quite frankly’s a great book though.

You’ll find a selection of books by or on the likes of James Baldwin, David Roediger, Dr Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, The Black Panthers, Jean Genet, and Bell Hooks amongst others that are directly linked to the current exhibition in our Shop and a wider selection of research material in our study. 

Also don't miss the fully illustrated catalogue from the exhibition. Buy online or from our Shop at the special exhibition price of £24.99 More >>

Posted by at 17:02


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