If you like Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage, you will enjoy this classic by James Baldwin. Tish and Fonny are in love and have a baby on the way. The only thing in their way is Fonny’s incarceration. If Beale Street Could Talk is a portrait of Black Urban life, a love story between Black people and their community, as it is between Tish and Fonny. And with every love story, there is always the damper of real-life issues that make the relationship difficult.
While If Beale Street Could Talk was published in 1974, the issues it touches on are still relevant today: from mass incarceration and police brutality to colorism and the plight of the Black woman. Despite the characters facing much adversity, there is still plenty of love and beauty within these pages. This is the Black experience, though. Like the Blues, our existence is intertwined with joy and sadness.
There is a battle between feeling pleasure and suffering. There is a struggle and a stubborn will to live even though you are dying. Trauma is held carefully and responsibly in this story.
Throughout the story, Baldwin examines and challenges gender roles. Masculinity is shown clashing with domesticity. Black women are struggling to find their dignity. Fonny is a sensitive artist. Trish is thrust into the role of provider and protector. The women in the story are really in the forefront, which is interesting because this book was written by a man.
“It is a miracle to realize somebody loves you.”
The love between Fonny and Tish is the glue in this story; it gives them both hope to keep going. But there is also the love Tish’s family has for Tish and Fonny and their unborn child that keeps them going. Without love, Fonny could have easily ended up a forgotten casualty of American racism.
Usually when I read literature from Black authors decades ago, it can feel dense and difficult to read. If Beale Street Could Talk feels very accessible. There were levels of complexity where the text could be understood for a high school English class (*cough cough* add more James Baldwin to high school curriculums!!) but also a more in depth African American Studies course. Get you a book that serves academic, but also pleasure!
If you haven’t engaged with James Baldwin or Black classics much, I would definitely recommend If Beale Street Could Talk as an introduction. And if you aren’t convinced, you can watch the movie first (because it is cinematic gold and the soundtrack is beautiful).
Get the audiobook here!
Are you looking to fall in love with reading again? Looking to find phenomenal books written by Black authors? Join the Modern Green Book book club powered by Liberation is Lit. In this book club we read all things Black! Our book club selections are handpicked from different prolific Black storytellers ranging in genres.
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