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Title page for ETD etd-09272018-232032

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Jones, Alexander Grant
Author's Email Address alexander.g.jones@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-09272018-232032
Title James Baldwin on Madison Avenue
Degree Master of Arts
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Scott J. Juengel Committee Chair
Vera Kutzinski Committee Member
  • culture industry
  • The New Yorker
  • James Baldwin
  • advertising
  • white liberal readers
Date of Defense 2018-12-15
Availability unrestricted
James Baldwin’s “Letter from a Region in My Mind” received an unprecedented number of letters to the editor when it was published in the November 17, 1962 issue of The New Yorker. A cluster of these reader responses located Baldwin’s critique of white liberalism and “the racial nightmare” in the advertisements that complemented, but also complicated, his polemic. In the postwar period, readers were earnestly entreated to develop a critical detachment from the allurements peddled by admen on Madison Avenue. These letters index, I argue, a self-reflexive moment in the history of reading when disquieted readers voiced their concerns about the advertising world encroaching upon a seminal instance of black authorship. Moreover, they bring into focus Baldwin’s own critique of Madison Avenue, a critique inseparable from a rebuke of those same white liberal readers seeking a half-hearted alliance with the Civil Rights Movement via easy denunciations of the flashy world of advertising. Rereading Baldwin’s “Letter from a Region in My Mind” in the shadow of the letters from New Yorker readers, I propose that Baldwin anticipated his polemic’s juxtaposition with the glossy advertisements of the magazine. Baldwin thus demonstrates how black authors in the postwar period could maintain an adversarial as well as a pre-emptive relationship with the white supremacist logics of Madison Avenue.
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