Anyone familiar with James Baldwin’s works knows that he often traveled between New York City and Paris, two places that served as both inspiration and setting for his first two novels, Go Tell It On the Mountain and Giovanni’s Room, respectively. After moving to Paris in 1948, Baldwin soon took residence in Saint-Paul de Vence, a town in the south of France, with his lover Lucien Happersberger, a Swiss painter. Though the structure housed arguably one of the most important (queer and black) writers of the 20th century, it now faces potential demolishment.
When Baldwin died in the home in 1987, the property was left to his brother, David. However, since David, too, has passed, the house has ended up in the hands of Jeanne Fauré, the former landlady, and has now been bought by real estate developer who wishes to demolish the structure and build luxury villas.
Although much of Baldwin’s home has fallen into disrepair, the writing room still remains intact. During the author’s time, the residence served as a gathering place for many artists, including gay modernist painter Beaufort Delaney, who painted many of his notable works on the location. Sidney Poitier, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones, Bill Wyman, and Harry Belafonte are among the notable figures who stayed with Baldwin in Saint-Paul de Vence. Author Jules B. Farber’s upcoming book, James Baldwin: Escape from America, Exile in Provence, will document these interactions.
It has been proposed by many that Baldwin’s home be preserved as a cultural pilgrimage and even house a writers’ residency. To see a structure that was refuge to one of America's greatest 20th century writers, and lodestone for groundbreaking ideas on sexuality and race, possibly torn down would not only be a literary loss, but a historical travesty. We must grant the space landmark status and preserve our connection to the fearless and deeply missed voice of James Baldwin.