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If Beale Street Could Talk Discussion Guide: If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

James Baldwin

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Information about the author and his work is available at https://www.britannica.com/biography/James-Baldwin

 

Get personal with James Baldwin

Baldwin was a cousin and close friend of Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison. Upon his death, Morrison wrote a eulogy for Baldwin that appeared in The New York Times. In the eulogy, entitled "Life in His Language," Morrison credits Baldwin as being her literary inspiration and the person who showed her the true potential of writing.

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In 2018 If Beale Street Could Talk was made into a movie starring KiKi Layne, Stephan James and Regina King.

Discussion Questions

Book Discussion Questions provided by The Hartford Public Library:

1. If you were asked to describe this book, what words would you use?

2. What do you think is the most important idea in this book?

3. Does If Beale Street Could Talk make you angry?

4. This book was published in 1974. Does it feel old-fashioned to you in some ways, or does it feel accurate for today?

5. When this book was published, some black leaders and activists said that author James Baldwin was showing hatred for black people. Do you feel that the author, who was African American, showed hatred for black people and black society?

6. Were you shocked by parts of this book? If you were shocked, which parts shocked you?

7. Who do you see as the hero or heroes of this book? Who shows courage?

8. Beale Street shows a black man imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Do you see similarities in today’s America? Does this book help us understand why so many African American men are imprisoned?

9. Who do you feel is the most vulnerable person in this book?

10. Which character or characters are the most changed by what happens in this book?

11. Why do you think Fonny’s father Frank killed himself?

12. People often say, “Love conquers all.” Do you feel hopeful for Tish and Fonny at the end of the book? Will their love conquer their hardships?

13. The title of a novel is a deliberate and important choice that any author must make. The title of a novel can give the reader clues about the theme, subject or context of the story. What might be the significance of Baldwin's title?

14. Fonny and Tish are the protagonists of the novel. Discuss the characters in If Beale Street Could Talk in relation to whether or not they help or hinder the main characters.

15. Do you agree with this statement?: "The women characters in If Beale Street Could Talk are portrayed either as saints or villains." Why or why not? Give evidence to support your opinion based on quotes from the novel.

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