Monday, March 13, 2023

New York Cityscapes

By Kenton Rambsy

Chapter four of my book The Geographies of African American Short Stories, “New York Cityscapes: James Baldwin and Toni Cade Bambara,” explains why New York City as a setting is integral to multifaceted short stories by Baldwin and Bambara. Their stories depict a diverse set of sights and sounds linked to one of our most famous cities. Their homegrown characters exhibit keen awareness of their environments as they navigate urban terrains.

Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” shows two brothers reconciling and gaining a deeper understanding of one another. Baldwin’s references to city landmarks and descriptions of navigation routes reveal him in the process of crafting a story that utilizes the urban environment as a dynamic background. “Sonny’s Blues,” as the title suggests, takes the transformative power of song seriously.

Baldwin, as well as Fisher, Dumas, and Baraka, demonstrates that musical gathering places can operate as captivating settings in short fiction.

For Bambara, New York City serves as a defining setting. She showcases the experiences of Black girl characters, thus shifting the conventional kind of protagonist that appeared in short fiction. 

This entry is part of a series--A Notebook on The Geographies of African American Short Stories.

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