Back New exhibitions humanize three twentieth century writers
Jane Evelyn Atwood, James Baldwin with the bust of his head by American artist Lawrence Wolhandler in his hotel room, rue des Grands Augustins, Paris, France. 1975. (© Jane Evelyn Atwood / Courtesy David Zwirner)

Three twentieth-century Library of America writers—James Baldwin, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams—are the focus of two exhibitions currently on view in New York City. Both shows are enthusiastically recommended to tourists and to New Yorkers who might be experiencing symptoms of cabin fever as we approach midwinter.

At the David Zwirner Gallery, God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin is a group exhibition curated by the New Yorker staff writer Hilton Als that marks the latest stage in the ongoing Baldwin renaissance. The exhibition’s first part, “A Walker in the City,” examines Baldwin’s formative experiences in New York and Paris, while the second, “Colonialism,” considers the ambiguous effects of the heightened celebrity conferred on him by 1963’s The Fire Next Time, when the press began to regard him as a spokesperson for the civil rights movement.

A running thread throughout the exhibition is Baldwin’s relationship to visual culture—as someone who was both intensely interested in, and the subject of, films, photography, and painting. The theme allows Als to juxtapose leading contemporary artists like Kara Walker and Glenn Ligon with earlier figures like the photographer Richard Avedon and the painter Beauford Delaney, another African American who (like Baldwin) made himself equally at home in Harlem and Greenwich Village.

First edition of The Man With the Blue Guitar by Wallace Stevens (Knopf, 1937).

At the Grolier Club, Two American Poets: Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams from the collection of Alan M. Klein intertwines the lives of two poets whose careers paralleled the development of American modernism. Near-contemporaries, Stevens (1879–1955) and Williams (1883–1963) met in New York in 1914 and maintained a sort of mutual admiration society for the next four decades, despite cultivating distinctly different poetic métiers. The many personal items on display, starting with both writers’ school days in the 1890s, suggest that the full-time professional lives they maintained alongside their writing—Williams was a doctor, Stevens an insurance executive—may have been one source of their affinity.

Poetry lovers will especially enjoy the selection of the famous “little magazines” from the 1910s and Twenties (seedbeds of a revolution in American poetry) and small-batch first editions from New Directions, Alfred A. Knopf, and a host of tinier, frequently short-lived presses that gave both men important outlets for their work.

God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin is on view at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York City through February 16, 2019. Visit the gallery website for complete exhibition information.

Two American Poets: Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams from the collection of Alan M. Klein is on view at the Grolier Club through February 23: www.grolierclub.org.

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